Vietnam has forced me to mature somewhat; a case in point being a bowl of noodles I ate earlier this year in Huế. Served on the footpath by a mobile vendor carrying her business across her shoulders, this bowl of funk would've sent my nine year-old self running for the hills. The initial ingredients going bowl-ward I would have had no difficulty with; sticky handfuls of fresh bun (rice vermicelli) are flung atop some leaves. When knife gets run over the chopping board, however, the protein is in play. Giò thủ is a Vietnamese pork brawn cut from a banana leaf casing, comprised of the textures chewy, crunchy, gelatinous, slimy and a little bouncy. Parts of it can ricochet in the mouth. A version of this is sliced into the bowl. Added next is another kind of 'sausage', nem chua, a fermented pink number of minced pork and shredded pig skin. Various cuts of fatty boiled pork round out protein proceedings. That nine year-old self would be in a catatonic state by now.
The vendor tosses on bean sprouts and cucumber in a last flourish before the flavour gets added. Mắm nêm is a fermented anchovy sauce usually customised by the individual vendor or home cook with ingredients ranging from pineapple and lemongrass to lime, garlic, sugar and chilli. Playing around with sauces is a sport in Vietnam. A ladle of this vendor's version is spooned over and then I take possession of my blue floral bowl. A wicked hot crush of chilli and garlic is my condiment of choice. Then it's action stations.
And in the mouth, there is action aplenty. Lots for the teeth to do. Massive blows to the tastebuds. It's a war going on in there. But now I exit that war - with texture - the victor.
Bún Mắm Nêm
on the pavement at 15 Phan Đăng Lưu
(not far from the Đông Ba Market)