Everyone has a vague sense of what 'Zen' means and your definition is probably different to what the bloke next to you on the train is thinking. In this case, however, the meaning is universally clear: generous Vietnamese street food, served smiley-fast.
As you dogleg down Renaissance Arcade between Charles and Pulteney Streets, cheap Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Thai and Chinese joints duke it out for your dollars. Look past the laksas and sushi: the standout performer here is Zen Kitchen.
Shiny, clattery and minimalist with an afterthought atrium off to one side, Zen Kitchen's interior design won't win any awards, but the food and service just might.
The fried spring rolls are a passable entree (if a little chewy) ‒ but the fresh rice paper rolls are a better bet. Seriously chubby, they're stuffed with a tangle of rice noodles; moist, thin-sliced pork; fresh prawns and bright leaves of Vietnamese mint. Smother one in rich satay sauce stacked with roughly chopped peanuts, or detour to the front counter for a little bowl of chilli and zingy black vinegar.
While you're waiting for your main (which won't be very long) pop the top off some chilled young coconut juice. It's served with a little plastic fork: dig out delicious slivers of coconut flesh from the bottom.
Continue your reconstitution with a fragrant No 3 pho: a salty broth with aniseed overtures, rice noodles and fatless beef fillets. Alternatively, the 'Golden Crispy Chicken Fillet' is sweet, sour and very substantial ‒ three fillets on a rice plateau, with fried egg, shallots and pickled carrot strips. Or join the take-away queue for crunchy-bread Vietnamese pork rolls with fresh coriander, carrot and little red ass-whuppin' chillis.
Finish off with a punchy Vietnamese coffee, which drips though a little stainless-steel filter into a glass. At the bottom lurks a half-inch of condensed milk. Stir it a little or a lot, depending on how sweet you want it (on a sliding scale from bitter-noir to instant tooth decay).
Satisfied, run an eye over the graffiti on the wall: 'The joy that we give to others is the joy that comes back to us'. How very Zen. Even the bloke next to you on the train would agree.