A long time ago at the beginning of this food journey we sampled a simple yet filling breakfast treat. This one on the surface could pass for full on Americana, yet one bite and we know it is unmistakably Vietnamese. I am talking about a wonderfully crunchy baguette stuffed with an omelet. Of course this being Vietnam any similarities to a garden variety chicken embryo sandwich in America end here. A liberal dose of soy sauce along with hot peppers, cucumbers and sometimes even a smear of pate give this creation a decidedly local twist.
So why are we taking another look at an egg sandwich? Simple. The experience of ordering one at 6am near the airport was just too weird to pass up sharing. This breakfast left all of us, including my Vietnamese coworkers, scratching our heads in both amazement and amusement. The lady sets up shop at 6am (ish) and arriving right at 6 can be a crapshoot taxing her infrastructure beyond its limits. This morning I evidently caused sheer chaos.
She began cooking the omelet on an outdoors hotplate, and suddenly began yelling “o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o.” She then picked up her cellphone and a rapid fire conversation with whomever that poor person was on the receiving end of a highly animated phone conversation. Three men eating soup began laughing while looking our way. She then turned off the flame with my half cooked egg now collapsing into a pool of yolky mess.
“Mot phuc” or one minute she yelled out as she summoned her young daughter outdoors. The girl then readied a motorbike by backing it out of the kitchen area, sticking the key in the ignition and making sure mama had a clear path to zip out of there. I am thinking what in the hell is going on here. Mama left my egg to slowly continue its coagulation in a huge pool of grease. She then tore down the street at high rate of speed generally unknown in Saigon before disappearing around the corner. Should I just hop back in the van and forget breakfast? Is she done? Do I need to still pay for goods never received?
Not even 30 seconds later she came roaring homeward holding two baguettes in her left hand. Actually she was doing more than just holding them. She clutched them like a V for victory and was waiving them frantically above her head as if she had slayed the bread enemy. I was afraid a gust of wind or inopportune bump in the road would send each into one of the numerous mud puddles lining this potholed street.
In another life I would have been quite alarmed that she was molesting my bread with bare hands for driving a motorbike I know is no bastion of cleanliness. But living in Vietnam causes a slow slide into just not caring and you wake up one day thinking this is quite acceptable. She hopped off the bike which her daughter then pushed back into the kitchen and then she continued assembling the sandwich as if she had never left. I could tell she was most pleased at this expeditious retrieval of bread by her singing and swaying as she placed my bánh mì ốp la in a plastic bag. It was like she had scored a touchdown and was now doing a crazy dance in the endzone. Or had I scored a touchdown in terms of witnessing such an awesome spectacle?
Vietnam is one of those places where ordering the same food from the same person every day will result in a different off the wall experience every time. If there is one thing that proves consistent in Vietnam, it’s inconsistency.