The story revolves around the war reporters Halberstam ran with in Vietnam during the war, and an off-the-beaten-path restaurant called the Diamond. There the author and his cronies congregated for three-course meals prepared in a Vietnamese style tailored to American tastes. Here’s Halberstam writing about the meal:
The second course at the Diamond was always the baby pigeon. They looked very elegant, all those wondrous little birds, perfectly done, placed with admirable spacing, equidistant from each other, like 30 or 40 miniaturized turkeys on a platter. They were, I think, roasted; I know they were not grilled. And again, we did not use knives and forks or chopsticks to eat them—rather our fingers flew, plate to mouth and back.
Some of the best food stories are those that serve as bridges between the world of culinary delights and some other place—the entertainment industry, or the criminal underworld, or in the case of Halberstam’s piece, war journalism. Gourmands have a tendency to get lost in their own little self-contained universe of chefs, restaurants, ingredients, and recipes; the stirring thing about “The Boys of Saigon” is that its lushly detailed account of meals from long ago is set against a stark backdrop of daily deadlines, mounting casualties, and political pressure from both Saigon and Washington.
There are certain stories that make an entire magazine worth buying; this piece might justify half a subscription.