When I last ate at Brooklyn’s Di An Di, the restaurant that’s wowed diners with its deep cuts from regional Vietnamese cuisine, I was delighted to find that the “pizza” — a piece of grilled rice paper served with various savory toppings — came with a pair of gold-handled scissors.
Traditionally, Vietnamese people don’t have knives at the table, but it’s not like we miss them. Scissors can do the delicate work of cutting tender rice noodles clumped in a bowl of pho, portioning out fried spring rolls, or shredding dry jerky over a salad. I’ve been noticing scissors in more and more restaurants lately — but they’re not the plain shears that I grew up using.
The scissors used at Di An Di, Bonsai Scissors by Uxcell, are a similar shape to those I’ve used at home, with wide handles and precise blades. The main difference is the handle, which is gold-toned with a chintzy dragon engraving, versus the rubbery red handle I’ve always used. At Di An Di, they come out with the banh trang nuong, or Vietnamese “pizza,” a popular street food from Saigon. Diners use them to portion out the crackly, thin dish at the table.
Tuan Bui, one of the restaurant’s co-owners, first saw such gold-plated scissors while traveling in Saigon, sold as souvenirs in the gift shop at Grain cooking school. He was delighted to encounter them again in the US at a dollar store in Chinatown while shopping for restaurant supplies. “I was shocked to find those scissors,” he says. “It felt like it was just meant to be, since we were just about to open the restaurant.”
If Di An Di was going to have genuine street food dishes on the menu, he had to have them. “While we were doing R&D, we knew dishes like the banh trang nuong needed scissors, though obviously most of the vendors in Vietnam go basic,” Bui says. “The more ornate ones that we use are a good representation of the experience we wanted to bring to diners.” From the decor to the dishes to the scissors, everything about Di An Di aims for that “street food, but high-end” impression. “Not to mention that they’re really Instagrammable,” he notes.
Chicago’s Radio Anago, a trendy Japanese restaurant, uses the same gold model, which they pair with their Houji fried chicken.
Of course, Asian cuisine traditions aren’t the only ones to incorporate scissors. Pizza scissors are a longstanding tradition in Rome, and like Di An Di, modern pizza places have adapted the custom. Nostrana, in Portland, Oregon, is so proud of its pizza scissors that they have them printed on staff T-shirts (though Nostrana’s event coordinator Natalia Toral says the current model, a sleek design by industrial designer Karim Rashid, is an upgrade from their first model, a basic “office supply purchase”).
But if you’re going to spring for a pair of dining scissors, why not go for the gold? (I’m totally buying a bunch for my family for Christmas.) At restaurants like Di An Di and Radio Anago, the scissors are functional showpieces, inhabiting a space between humble and eye-catching. They’re not the ones that I grew up with, but maybe it’s time for an upgrade.
Buy Uxcell Bonsai Scissors with Carved Gold Tone Dragon Metal Handle, $7