First stop lunch, at least for Paul; I’m pretty sure this restaurant wouldn’t have passed a US health inspection. He had been eagerly anticipating a bowl of hot steaming “Pho” since breakfast and was now on a mission to find us the perfect spot to try this local dish. About ten minutes into our walk back to port we stumbled across a restaurant with a small friendly lady out front. Moments later we were escorted to two blue plastic chairs in the middle of a three-sided cinderblock building (in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint) and seated at a rectangular table dressed with a well worn plastic PepsiCo cover. The table was sticky and the large plastic box containing the makings of lunch had no refrigeration. As I sat at the table questioning Paul’s decision to dine here I couldn’t help but wonder if the chopsticks and large silver spoons shoved haphazardly, handle side down, presented more of a health risk in their current state (as various hands had surely bushed against them at previous meals) or if correctly placing them handle side up would have increased the likelihood of ingesting a far more sinister pathogen growing down in the bottom of the basket.
Prior to departing for Asia we had heeded the CDC’s advice and both headed down to the Health Department for a round of Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations (quite possibly because someone from the agency had visited this very establishment) however at this point in the trip I was neither hungry enough nor curious enough to give it a try. Paul on the other hand sat right down, cracked open the menu and went to work selecting his Pho. A few minutes later, the lady returned with a large piping bowl of rice noodles in some sort of chicken broth with several thinly sliced pieces of beef and green onions floating on top. Two additional dishes accompanied the soup. The first was an equally large plate of fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil and wedges of lime. The second was a small a bowl containing two Vietnamese hot sauces, one brown and one red (both with a consistency similar to ketchup) and several slices of what appeared to be some sort of fresh chili pepper, seeds intact. Paul then proceeded to instruct me on how to assemble and eat the Pho. He added a bit of each ingredient as the lady and I looked on in anticipation of his first bite. With the final squeeze of lime complete, he picked up the chopsticks, leaned over the bowl, tweezed a grouping of noodles, and slurped them down. This was followed by a smile and a few gracious words to the chef who returned his smile and nodded before heading back to the kitchen. Alternating heaps of noodles with the chopsticks and sips of broth with a metal spoon Paul finished the rest of his lunch. It was certainly an interesting way to eat soup, but appears to be the standard practice. As I looked around I saw several of the locals applying the same method. I do have to admit the soup smelled wonderful, but I still wasn’t feeling brave enough to give it a try.
As I write this blog we are in transit to Bangkok and Paul is still talking about this meal. He will eat it two more times before we leave Vietnam but still steadfastly believes that this was by far the best.
After lunch we continued our walk back to port, stopping from time to time to peruse the shops. Didn’t find anything I had to have, but certainly enjoyed looking.