Sometimes when I’m eating my routine breakfast of cereal and coffee, I dream of a steaming bowl of pho and a large glass of Vietnamese ice coffee.
Earlier this year after a long train ride, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh early in the morning with friends, dirty, sleepy and very grumpy. After dropping our bags at the hotel and realizing we could not check in and clean ourselves until the afternoon, we walked around the city in search of food. Our previous meal had been instant noodles, in which I had only eaten the noodles. Near our hotel we found a street where people were setting up shop. I wish I could remember where this was. We wandered around peeking in at little stores, stalls of vegetables and carts filled with mangoes. Cart and stall owners talked loudly to each other and gestured towards us to buy and eat.
A middle aged lady was preparing pho out of a metal cart. She had all the ingredients she needed in her small space: a pot of boiling water, piles of noodles, stalks of leafy greens, an assortment of meat and odd shaped ingredients we couldn’t quite make out. I ignored all my mother’s advice on avoiding street food or non bottled drinks (with no regrets). In turn we each pointed to the ingredients we wanted and she piled them into the boiling water. While we waited for our pho, we ordered ice coffee at the cart to the side. We took our big bowls of pho and mugs of ice coffee and sat on plastic stools at a metal table in the alleyway behind the pho lady. One in our group had to conduct a work call and talked loudly in English over the street noise about adult things like pricing sheets. The rest of us happily munched our food in silence.
There is nothing like 8am pho when the sun is bright and the street is busy.