Around the markets in Hanoi, I see certain people all the time.
This elderly roasted pork (thịt lợn quay) vendor, for instance. Once or twice a week, I have reason to be gawking at her. I purchase my dog's food from a typical Vietnamese cơm bình dân (rice-plate restaurant) located right by her low-rise chopping platform. As I sit waiting on my bike for the order to be packaged, I hone in on her activities for a minute or two.
She is squatted on a plastic stool so low that the kinetics of my body will not permit my posterior to reach that far down. We are apparently of the same species but our dexterity of limb and centre of gravity are poles apart. She is a crab and I am a lumbering clod. She scuttles about adroitly on her haunches whereas if I were that low it would be because I had fallen and would need to be flipped, helped up and set on my way again.
She's dealing in pork belly which is almost a food group in Vietnam, not to mention the rest of Asia. These hunks that she's thrown down on her newspapered butcher's stand are roasted with a rind of crackling, crisp and puckered like bubble-wrap. If ever I get to request a last meal, just pile my plate up high with that. No meat, just the fat.
In Hanoi, thịt lợn quay is bought by weight, cut in thick slices, then bite-size chunks. Each one is a study in layers of flesh, whiter near the rind and pinkish lower down, interspersed with glorious fat - prettier than a rainbow. My vendor has been weilding her cleaver so long that it is almost an extension of her arm. She hardly has to look as it comes down with a hefty crack and thud. What must be permanently greasy hands gather the meat on the cleaver blade before it is slid into plastic bags to take away. A side of pickled shallots (củ kiệu) is a normal accompaniment. My preferred beverage pairing is cold Bia Hanoi.
I like this lady alot. I like what she is hawking way too much. I like that she is easy to smile. I like her cackle. And I like the way she cuts off slithers for the alley's dogs and feeds them by hand.