I am a self-proclaimed pastaholic. I could eat pasta every day and when I was in Rome a year ago I ate it for lunch and dinner. My father says it is in my blood because I was conceived in Venice. My mother says it was due to my aunt who looked after me when I was little and they went on a trip. As I would get upset in the evenings because I missed my parents she would make me pasta and somehow that calmed me down. It still does. Pasta is my comfort food; others go straight for the chocolate when upset/emotional/down, I go for spaghetti/farfalle/penne. It is no surprise that I own pasta makers on 2 continents and that my friends look disappointed when they get anything but fresh pasta at a dinner party at my house.
I was excited when I went to Vietnam because I had heard that noodle soup is THE breakfast to have. I know that there is technically a difference between pasta and noodles, but I just love anything that can be called Nudeln in German. In Vietnam I would finally have the chance to top my visit in Rome and eat noodles/pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – how exciting!
So I practised my Vietnamese. I had read enough horror stories of unfortunate travellers who had mispronounced pho and basically ending up ordering a hooker for breakfast. While I think that a lot of Vietnamese are used to the tied tongues of Westerners by now and have learned to differentiate if someone is hungry for one or the other, I wanted to get it just right.
I had barely got off theplane when I sat down to enjoy a pho. For those who are not 100% sure what goes into pho, just check out Sophie’s recipe here. I ate pho on my first night in Vietnam and I ate it at Pho 2000 where Clinton ate his pho too. I ate pho at 6.30am after getting off a night train in Nha Trang with a dodgy stomach at a little side street cafe, picking chicken feet and blood sausage from my bowl. I ate my way around and think I really gave it a fair chance. But in the end I realized that I am simply not a soup/broth fan. It doesn’t get me very excited. Unless it’s lobster broth, but even then I would prefer the actual lobster.
I didn’t make a big deal out of my broth dislike though and I just started to eat only the noodles, the chicken, and at Pho 2000 the funny, round mushrooms that looked like the ones from Super Mario. This was an okay solution for me, but I always felt a bit bad for leaving all the broth. It felt like I was insulting the essence of the pho by not eating it.
The other thing I realized is that while some love it, I think eating noodle soup for breakfast is rather strange. I really don’t want to sound like a horrible tourist here and I don’t think that my breakfast choices are making the world a better place, but for my palate noodle soup was weird. I thought I was going to be in heaven, being allowed to have noodles all day long, but for breakfast my stomach was like “What the heck? Ever heard about eggs? Ever heard about a croissant? A piece of baguette?” It got very confused by my repeated attempts to feed it noodles at 7am, something it had clearly marked and stored away under lunch, dinner, and after midnight snack.
Then came the day when I got to Hanoi. Again I had got off a night train and again not feeling very fresh as one does after a long train journey and no shower available yet. The morning was spent with a walking tour through the city and eventually we ended up at a little road side café for lunch. My stomach was still dodgy and my wallet was pretty empty as a wallet gets after a few weeks of travelling, so I decided that noodle soup would be gentler on both. For lunch there was no pho in sight, but bún chả was on the menu. I asked my Vietnamese friend Tam to order me a bowl. He obliged kindly and so I had to give him a photo op while eating my bún chả even though I:
– was not feeling well.
– do generally not like to have my picture taken.
– had not had a shower yet after the ride on the night train.
But it says even more about the bún chả than my good will, because really – forget about lobster broth! bún chả is the stuff that broth dreams are made of. It is fragrant and a bit sweet, but spicy. It comes with little pork meat balls and tiny pieces of pork belly. Add noodles – the best part obviously – and herbs and garlic to your liking and you go straight to broth nirvana.
So I ate a few spoonful, sat back, and Tam got his picture. Afterwards I had to admit to my very surprise that I liked it. Maybe it was the nice filter he used, but maybe the Vietnamese and I had it right all along – noodles are good for you and you should have them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Image by Tam Ngyen