Back Alley Bún Bò Huế – 76 of 365

Bún Bò Huế

In a former life not so long ago, I wouldn’t have even considered frequenting my latest lunch source.  How in the world can a pho stand nestled between motorbikes in what looks like a small garage storage room possibly serve up any modicum of sanitation?  The grandma, mama, and daughter trio have tried for months with no success to rope me in for a quick meal.  In fact, mama is one of our friends from the other day who joined in the impromptu sidewalk lesson in how to say ốc, or snail.   Yes, the woman who was having fun with me expects me to solicit her business.

After wandering around the street market shopping for vegetables and fruits including a sweet pinkish orb called “breast milk” (I kid you not), I happened on by their most rustic back alley stand between The Manor Apartments and Vo Duy Ninh Street for the second time in twenty minutes.  My saying no to her latest offer was met by a pouty look that made me finally throw caution to the wind in one giant “oh what the hell.”  OK, she’s here every day and I always see people eating.  Surely she isn’t in business to poison her neighbors, right?   Trying her food stand was one type of crapshoot I prayed wouldn’t hours later turn into one of another sort.

Soup in an Alley

Sourcing the cucumber dish ingredients locally in the neighborhood proved just enough a confidence booster to make me feel integrated enough into life outside the normal expat bubble to dare try Mama’s soup.   As I lowered my sweaty self onto the miniature plastic stool, I ordered “một bún bò huế” to the surprise and delight of everyone around.  Yep, the very guy who butchered ốc can say một for one.   A chorus of “một, một, một, một bún bò huế, một, một, một” along with loud giggles erupted tableside as everyone basked in my fluency.   If only they knew my vocabulary taps out above the number three.  Let’s just let them think I am some sort of western oracle.

I also discovered even in Vietnam the concept of the neighborhood looney tune exists.  A random woman came up to me and shook my hand as grandma and mama rolled their eyes.   Crazy Woman even gave me a kiss on the cheek which for Vietnam is a most unusual and risqué display of public affection, especially between strangers.  Grandma barked out something, waived her on and then shook her head.   I didn’t mind though for I finally felt part of this chaotic streetscape we call the Binh Thanh District.

As for the soup…this beef noodle broth with origins in the city of Hue was good with its lemongrass flavors, pork sausage, meat and thick ropy rice noodles.   A tad too much hot chili sauce on my part kicked the flavors into brow sweat territory but this intensity is easily dialed back next time.  And yes, a next time will come soon enough when I need a quick streetfood fix for a buck just steps away from home.   In the US we can order one greasy item off the dollar menu at a boring drive through.  In Vietnam for the same price we can sit at dollhouse size furniture and eat tasty filling food in deliciously different surroundings.  I choose Vietnam with its odd ball daily specials such as a crazy lady’s kiss gracing the local value menu.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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