Aimlessly wandering around Hue and environs on a motorbike opened up a whole new side of Vietnam. I am able to go where the tourists would never dare step foot. About 45 minutes outside the city are some beaches for which I had held high hopes. Five minutes surveying the trash strewn shores were all I needed to make a u-turn and head back into town. Besides, the breeze on the motorbike was about the only respite from the 96 degree heat and relentless sun.
Heading back into town, lunch began to cloud my thoughts and food became priority number one. I really wanted a highly local experience as far off the tourist trail as possible, and the choices suitable to a westerner were scarce. Somewhere on the far, far, far outskirts of Hue, a number of very basic com binh dan joints began popping up in the most random of places. I passed a particularly crowded one simple called Quan Com Binh Dan at Duong QL 49. Com binh dan loosely means commoner’s rice.
That is exactly the type of place I want to eat…basic, regular people, honest food and cheap prices. The tin roof barely held up by concrete “walls” sheltered a collection of tiny metal tables and stools along with a decrepit serving cart plunked down on one corner. Of course hen I walked in everyone stopped what they were doing to gawk at me. I can only surmise western customers are not the norm, and a group of about 10 people waited with bated breath to see what I would choose.
Pointing to some round meat patties the width of a golf ball elicited a chorus of murmers which rose in fervor when I chose an accompanient of pork strips. As I walked to a seat I felt like the new kid on the first day of school. Dozens of eyes burned holes right through me and one guy even yelled out in English, “what your name?” I said John and asked for his in Vietnamese. He replied by bolting out of the seating area in shock and disbelief. I never saw him again.
When my plate was delivered another crowd gathered around to watch me manipulate the chopsticks and spoon. They were quite shocked I was actually able to feed myself, and one older woman demonstrated how to use a spoon by grabbing my hand and folding my fingers around its handle. I just smiled her way and thanked her. Somehow I have managed to feed myself four decades now so holding a spoon obviously is not too much of a stretch for me. But I do appreciate the helpful tips just in case I had been doing it wrong all these years.
I thought the meat patties were pork when I ordered, but they turned out to be some sort of fish. The overwhelming taste of seafood and fish sauce shocked me, but I liked them. Or maybe I was just hungry. I couldn’t finish all the pork though. No amount of hunger could help me ingest all of this one for I had to excise the fatty layers with the spoon’s edge. The actual meat was scarce but tasty and tender.
My audience narrated my 75 cent meal from start to finish, and I was glad to share some time with them. I think I rocked their world down to its foundation.