Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pho Bo Mornings

At this rate, I'm going to come home with a flat little tummy. The food is simple, delicious, satisfying but they don't know about supersizing yet. I'm never in danger of overeating. I have to resist turning this blog into a prolonged meditation on food. Everyone knows I'm obsessed by food - esp. Viet food. It's an unavoidable topic.

So far I've had pho bo (beef noodle soup) three mornings in a row. Back in TO, this classic dish can be bought for dinner for a scandalous $8 in Asian fusion restaurants on Yonge St. Here it is a humble breakfast, is served from boiling pots on the sidewalk where you sit on kindergarden stools and slurp away. And it costs 60 cents. It's a Hanoi original but is eaten throughout the country. The garnishments are what distinguish the different regions I'm told. Here in Hanoi the style is spare: julienned scallions, a couple leaves of herbs, some chili sauce and a squirt of lime (but kind of more like a tiny orange?).

Last night was ga tan. It was delicious and completely like any soup I've every eaten in North American restaurants. Chicken drumsticks in a broth with bitter herbs (identity unknown), lotus seeds, red raisin-like things and maybe a few chunks of herbal root. Each piece of chicken is dipped in a salty milky looking dip. Very satisfying and sure enough it took care of my upset tummy. I would never have picked out this restaurant, but Viet took me there. You'd think that one of the finest purveyors of this dish in a city of several million would seat more than 6 people at once. A little kid (age 3?) sat with his mother at the end of our table and stared at me with his huge black eyes the whole time. What's this white monkey doing here eating our food?

Okay, I just noticed the last two postings are named after dishes. So I'm predictable.

It was a beautiful cool night (well cool is relative), and after dinner Viet took me for a moto ride around West Lake, by Ba Dinh square with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and around the ancient Citadel, which I'd never seen before. It's a significant historical site, but is off limits as a military complex. Over the walls you could get fascinating glimpses of ancient yellow gates and the tiled roofs of pagoda-like buildings. Then to a cafe for bubble tea.

I see I'm back to food again. I must be hungry and it's roughly lunch time. Oh, the possibilities!

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