My New Normal – 47 of 365

phở bò

My world is anything but normal over here in Asia.  Still after almost two years in Hanoi and Saigon, what is mundane for the Vietnamese can become quite the sensory overload for me.  And what is more common in Vietnam than the ubiquitous bowl of phở?  I know we’ve already slurped down a bowl or two of this noodle soup together, and against my better judgment I really am trying to find more exotic offerings than a tangy broth with chewy beef and soft white rice noodles.  But sometimes two non Vietnamese eating phở can be a deliciously uncommon experience after all.   This so common bowl in very common run down surroundings was anything but for my buddy Eloy and I at our tried and tested Phở Bắc Hải Hà Nội next to the apartment towers.

A big bowl of the stuff seemed the perfect cheap meal to end a long day of flying and we settled into our flimsy plastic chairs for a routine lunch.  Simply placing the order led to unexpected confusion and pandemonium though.  The only words out of my mouth had been “hai phở bò” or two beef soups.  The guy was just not getting it.  I realize Vietnamese is a tonal language requiring exact pronunciation but come on… phở is the only thing on the menu and why else would I be in there holding up two fingers and pointing to the giant vat of boiling broth?  Seriously, how many times have we sat at these tables ordering the same thing over and over from the limited menu of either beef phở or chicken phở?  Maybe the MSG stars just weren’t aligned right.   Who knows.   Just give us some freaking soup!

Fresh Herbs for Phở

I must have said hai phở bò five times before something clicked in the guy’s head.  Finally some progress!!  He barked out marching orders to a 5 year old kid who then ran Mach 7 over to a shelving unit straight out of someone’s basement storage area.  Next thing I know two “333” brand cans plucked from a 24 pack came our way.  Three is pronounced “ba” and to my untrained ear sounds the same as “bò.”  To his trained ear unable to decipher accented Vietnamese, what I had been saying was evidently a bunch of nonsense.  And I wonder what would happen in the US if a five year old served beers in a restaurant.  I can’t even imagine.  Someone would capture it on an Iphone and the father would be arrested by the time the video went viral.

With our intentions for two bowls of beef soup finally conveyed by my walking over to the pot and pointing down into it, I stared at this “kitchen” area while our lunch finally came to fruition.  I got to thinking about how food safety just isn’t much of a concept over here.  With bare hands, the guy took a handful of raw meat from a container whose only climate control was the hot, humid air surrounding it.  Of course meat can’t be sliced without using a knife wiped with the same rag used on the tabletops.   Yes, I do realize this is the rag dedicated to cleaning so why would anyone differentiate the types of cleaning?  Indeed, this soup stand has found economical efficiency by keeping a single rag.

I then watched as our chef donned a plastic glove on his left hand to hold the soup bowl but not on his right to assemble the noodles, chopped meat and herbs.  Well at least his assembly line is paved with good intentions.  Indeed, we do want that white porcelain vessel to remain sterile and untouched…forget about the ingredients in it that we actually must digest.  It’s like so many things over here.   People manage to come so close to the finish line but crap out just shy of pushing things across.   Just one more glove buddy.  One more and you just might have one thing the health department can agree on.

One thing both Eloy and I could agree on is that our two bowls of tasty phở bò with fresh herbs went down so nicely.   Sometimes the food’s journey from kitchen to table can be more interesting than the meal itself.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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