This summer I spent a month wiggling my way down Vietnam, exploring the hills, the rivers, the beaches and of course, the food. I knew very little about the county before I left.The borrowed copy of Lonely Planet had, despite the very best of intentions, been hardly dipped into and many of my expectations came, perhaps unwisely, from Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear special. My first night in Hanoi, spent in a room with leaking ceiling, dirty bedsheets and overly friendly cockroaches did little to endear the country to me, but once dawn arrived on our first morning in Vietnam, the country began to sell itself. Epic limestone formations of Halong Bay; the majestic mountains along the Ho Chi Minh trail explored by motorbike; beautiful empty beaches; women in conical hats carrying their wears over their shoulders; the endless hum of motorbikes laden with entire families precariously balanced; rice terraces tended by hill tribes in their traditional outfits, and of course, Pho.
Pho is an inescapable dish in Vietnam. A delicious bowl full of meaty broth, full of rice noodles and meat, garnished with herbs, bean sprouts and chilli’s, it is the lingering taste of Vietnam. Men squat on street corners on impossibly low stool slurping it from plastic bowls. Women in Hanoi wheel huge pans of it around on carts. Almost every restaurant or street vendor will sell you a bowl. Always the cheapest thing on the menu, often too big to finish. It is a soup that raised and defines a people.
We tried it all. Pho Bo with Beef, Pho Ga with chicken. Bun Bo Hue,a spicy variation from the town of Hue. Pho in delicate bowls in upmarket restaurants. Pho by mountain roadsides made with sun warmed, near rancid Beef. Pho for breakfast. Pho for dinner. It’s all Pho, and it’s all delicious.