What particular dish brings you back to a place you’ve traveled?
We connect memories and experiences with the things we encounter along the way. Maybe that’s a piece of clothing you wore traveling some place or a particular song. Often it’s food we eat.
Let's travel through food!
Early morning rush to get phở in Hanoi. We were stacked with business meetings all day but my colleague said this is an important part of life here.
We met at 7 near my hotel in the center to head off for some breakfast. Weaving between motos honking and the food vendors displaying their colorful, daily selection, he explained to me what he and his family typically have for breakfast and how it’s cooked. Fresh vegetables and noodles are a part of life here. This combination of herbs in steaming hot broth over noodles is something I’ll always remember.
We arrived at a small restaurant fully open and pouring into the street with people. My colleague had recommended, Phở Gia Truyền Bát Đàn for its authenticity. I was not disappointed.
Tables packed tightly and people hovering over each other, eyeing for a single spot to sit. Regulars smiled and waved at each other and I pictured them laughing and sharing gossip over the din of knives pounding and customers placing orders. What a beautiful scene - Busy, with a million tiny worlds lived in each person here, the connections and invisible webs shared.
We packed into line with the rest of the 9-5ers before all raced off to their jobs. A quick glance at his watch, my colleague assured me that we’d have enough time to order, eat, and get to our appointments. He didn’t know that my mind was far away from our appointments. Here and now was the only place I wanted to be - experiencing a place totally foreign to me, a language I didn’t understand, discovering another culture, and imagining what it would be like if this were my daily routine.
After sloppily placing my order (I just pointed and murmured something), we hovered about until a place opened up. Like hawks, we darted once we saw our chance, a side table next to the cashier. Moments later, a piping hot dish of clear broth with fresh herbs and noodles arrived and I dove in, eager to round out this sensory experience of sights, sounds, smells, and now, tastes.
As I look back, I still remember this experience distinctly. I can almost put faces and movements to some of the people in line - able to read what they were thinking through their body language - impatient, anxious, relaxed, distracted, happy. And through this rich, immersive experience just by having breakfast at a neighborhood spot, I can still remember the feeling I had there and what I was thinking - happy, a bit anxious, curious, and open.
Every time I have phở, it reminds me of this trip through Vietnam, how I felt then, how this experience changed me and what I discovered about myself. And, it how it was a chance to experience another way of life, even for a moment.
What is a food that brings you back to a place or experience you had while traveling?
How is food a way to explore a new place? Share your answers in the comments!
What is Phở?
Phở originated in the Nam Định Province of Northern Vietnam and slowly made its way south, transforming recipes and ingredients along the way. It is said to have influences from the French dish, Pot au Feu (aka Pot on Fire) and, with the French demand for beef, bones used for the broth were in ready supply. At the core, it’s a clear broth with meat (either beef, Phở Bo or less commonly, chicken, Phở Ga), plus rice noodles and fresh herbs.
When Pho first came into the picture during the 20th century, street vendors would travel in the early morning or late evening with a long pole across their shoulders, balancing the hot broth in a wooden box on one end and fresh noodles and herbs on the other. Recipes have evolved and you’ll be able to find a wide variety of interpretations.