An acquiantance of mine is leaving Hanoi after three years. Last week at a farewell lunch, we got to talking about food. It was me who guided the conversation there as I'm fairly shallow on other topics. I'm always intrigued by how little exposure some medium-to-long-term ex-pats have had to street food. I wanted to interrogate the acquaintance, see what her form was like.
Not that this is how I judge people, of course.
I try not to, anyway. But I got the sense that the acquaintance's excitement about Vietnamese cuisine and the local specialties was limited to her first year here. She claimed to have overdosed on pho, admitting to knocking off three bowls a day on occasion, one for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The acquaintance was fast becoming a friend, or at the very least an inspiration for a future post. Even I have not attempted this 'pho three-peat feat'.
While the acquaintance lost her pho mojo early on, citing some kind of MSG giddiness, I have soldiered on. I may not have written about it for a year or more but be assured that noodle soup is still slurped and sipped regularly at stickyrice HQ. I still revere the pho ritual. I feel excited when waiting for my bowl to arrive, chopsticks cursorily cleaned with paper and ready. Juice is extracted from a wedge of lime. Hot red sauce is passed over in favour of a few slices of fresh chili. A drop of garlic-infused vinegar, a shake of pepper. The ceremonial lifting and dropping of the noodles with the sticks and spoon to mix the condiments in signals that the preparation is done. Afterwards, I wipe my mouth with a square of flimsy napkin and insert the toothpick.
And I feel as if I should genuflect as I back out onto the street.
Is there a need to resurrect the Hanoi Pho Swoop, to revise it with a chapter or two, to suck up new noodles and spit out new words?