For those who have had it before, you know what I mean when I say, there is very little that beats the magical smell, taste and warmth of a giant, steaming bowl of Pho. For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, go eat some, now! Pho cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.
The ever- growing craze for this Vietnamese noodle soup is not just some fad played up by conformists in an attempt to feel culturally superior. No, pho is truly food for the soul, and Pho huts to Vietnam are like Starbucks to D.C. They are on every corner, so naturally, I have had my fill since we arrived. The flavor is so dramatic in each different bowl I have tasted thus far.
We stopped at a rest stop between Saigon and the Mekong Delta where we shared 2 bowls of pho chay (vegan pho) between the 3 of us. Dad loaded his up with hot chilis and I left mine fresh. From the moment in time where the first spoonful of warm deliciousness took over my taste buds and trickled down my throat to the time we had to pay our bill and be back on the road, I was sure I was experiencing a taste of heaven.
Leaving the busyness of the city behind, we boarded a small junk boat on the Mekong river delta. I fell victim to the peaceful setting and found myself drifting slowly from reality. Soft splashes from the river kissed my face, cooling my cheeks amid the hot, humid air. Cruising through the delta, we attracted many curious onlookers, who stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing - bathing, fishing, cooking, plucking the feathers off of an unlucky chicken, etc. - to gaze upon us, the foreign visitors. I guess I am going to have to get used to sticking out like a sore thumb. I became a minority the minute I stepped onto the plane to Tokyo in the Dulles airport. I am blonde, white, Christian, and I do not own a motor-scooter. On the flip side however, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many people shorter than myself.
on the river
I sat on a pillow at the bow of the boat, taking in the sights. The water's edge was an array of tropical vegetation, and shacks, each constructed in their own slipshod manner out of bamboo, banana leaves, scrap metal and wood. Stockings, shirts and pants hung on clothes lines strewn across front decks that rested, lopsided, upon stilts in the river. Fish traps and chicken coops littered what small yards and alleyways there were between each living space. In front of these floated boats of all shapes and sizes, decorated with hammocks, more hanging clothes, fishing poles and assortments of local fruits and veggies (most of which I had never tried nor even heard of until this week).
We docked along the delta to enjoy cups of hot tea, fresh made coconut candies and rice crackers. We were served by enthusiastic locals, happy to meet us, feed us, and encourages to buy as much as we could carry. My mother purchased a 4 million dong ($200) oil painting from a 10 year old selling his father's art. They can be very persuasive.
Following the snack, I made acquaintances with the friendly, neighborhood python. oh, Toto. Back to the boat.
Advice of the day: Never take for granted, all that you have. And if you ever need a little perspective, just visit the rural communities of Vietnam.
Food of the day: ...do I really need to say it? ...Pho, pho course!
Top people-watching moment: Dad tipped waitress 20,000 dong ($1) and without hesitation, she began to jump up and down, shrieking with excitement and gratitude.