I just started reading my first Anthony Bourdain book (A Cook’s Tour) and when I came across this passage describing eating pho in Saigon, I found myself salivating. I’ve only been to Vietnam (my parent’s homeland) twice in my lifetime thus far and the last time I was 15. In this passage, not only is he giving a glorious description of pho, but he also gave me back a memory of popping plastic bags of fresh wet towels. I used to love popping the plastic bags and had no memory of this until reading Cook’s Tour. I do want to add that usually and traditionally, the meat used in this noodle soup is beef (all kinds from brisket to beef meat balls, to beef tripe). You can read the Wikipedia article here. Regardless, I do insist that you check out a snippet of Bourdain’s prose below.
Is there anything better to eat on this planet than a properly made bowl of pho? I don’t know. Precious few things can approach it. It’s got it all. A bowl of clear hot liquid, loaded with shreds of fresh, white and pink crab meat, and noodles is handed to me, garnished with bean sprout and chopped fresh cilantro. A little plate of condiments comes next, a few wedges of lime, some ground black pepper, which, judging from my neighbors at the counter, one makes into a paste, adding lime juice to pepper and stirring with chopsticks, a dish of nuoc nam, a dish of chili, fish oil, some chopped red chili peppers. The proprietor hands me a cold plastic wrapped towel, which, once again emulating my neighbors, I squeeze until the air is forced to one end and then pop loudly between my hands. This sound, the pop pop pop of plastic-wrapped hand towels exploding, is the back beat to Saigon. You hear it everywhere. Inside the wrapper is a cold, fresh, clean towel to wash and refresh with. The pho is fantastic, spicy, hot, complex, refined, yet unbelievably simple. The astounding freshness of the ingredients, the brightly contrasting textures and colors, the surprising sophistication of the presentation – the whole experience is overwhelmingly perfect.
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