My days in Hanoi usually started by a fresh mango or passion fruit juice, accompanied by Vietnamese bread to which I had totally surrendered my taste buds and my soul. They say that the Vietnamese people’s taste for bread is a treasonous relish cultivated during colonial past, but in my opinion, bread is Vietnam.
My lunch time was about taking a stroll down the street full of scooters, walking pass numerous French style buildings and finally stopping at a Banh Mi (Vietnamese style bread roll) stool. With excitement I watched the woman putting a baguette into a tiny charcoal oven and simultaneously grilling two thin pieces of pork. My appetite was stirred up once more. By the time the minced pork turned brown and gave a seductive fragrance, my stomach and my throat were playing a symphony. With hardly enough patience I waited for her to squeeze in some sliced green chilli pepper and carrots , some herbs and a few bean sprout on board, to top everything with a rich stream of chilli sauce, then to wrap the whole thing with half a piece of yesterday’s newspaper and, finally, she handed it over to me. Standing there I would take a first bite—my teeth pierced through the crunchiness of bread and landed on a multi-textured frenzy of freshness—the thing was bliss.
Sometimes I would have a pho for lunch. The typical Vietnamese rice noodle was usually made with either chicken (ga) or beef (bo). Personally I preferred chicken: a modest bowl of silky rice noodle in chicken broth, decorated by fresh spring onions, red chilli pepper, and loads of herbs. All were powerful and reviving. With a final touch of freshly squeezed lime, a bowl of pho would linger in my memory for the whole winter.
In the hot summer day a bowl of Banh Cuon (pork and mushroom in rice cake) made an ideal meal for me. I would rather call it a rice-pork sausage—grounded pork and minced mushroom were well seasoned before they were stuffed into some thin but multiple layers of fermented rice batter. Tossed over it were scraps of fried onions, garlic, and meat floss. The final step is to dip it into a sweet-spicy fish sauce to highlight the flavour—one had to be skilful with chopsticks to enjoy this dish to the fullest.