I have wondered if I should try to describe to you my annoyingly deep seeded fear of flying. How when we hit a bit of turbulence I freak the fuck out and start looking around at other passengers only to notice they are all calmly sitting back sipping their cup of tea or cheep domestic sparkling wine, and reading their news papers. Mother fuckers. I am wrenching at that chair like an old diesel mechanic. Seriously, they would need the jaws of life to pry me from the seat in the case of decent turbulence. It would be true to say even the seatbelts would be fighting to put me on to ensure their safety in the case of emergency. I seriously think I need to drink more when I’m flying… Lot’s more…
Anyway, clearly we did arrive at our destination all safe and sound. First stop, Hanoi and the Old Quarter.
The Old Quarter is called the Old Quarter because that’s what they damn well wanted to call it. Cut these homies some slack, would you…
We stayed close to the Old Quarter as we had heard that this was the place to go for good cheap eats, and my friends, we were not disappointed.
On the first morning we woke up early and hit the streets. Not literally of course, as we had only just met these streets and they had done nothing to wrong us… yet. We saw power lines attached to trees. Like, rows of power lines attached to trees. It was like the city would be powerless if it didn’t have these trees. That was the first of many noticeable differences between Vietnam and Australia but, as I am not a cat loving Aunt trying to decide which nephew is my favourite, I’m going to move on for now and appreciate ‘nam as the individual and unique snow flake it is.
That first morning was when I saw my first banh mi stand. It was like I was a teenager again and I had swapped gazes with that pretty and heaps popular girl (whose name I can’t remember) at the school dance, the dance floor opened up like the red sea, and then she walked over to me and took my hand and we… um… that must’ve been someone else’s screwed up gym class dream there. Sorry about that. Back to the banh mi stand; I saw it from across the street and I knew it must be mine. I pushed my way through a crowd of scooters and small people with very dark and very straight hair, until I had finally reached my target. Now I pointed at the crusty roll the banh mi vendor held in her hand and, pausing momentarily to wipe the drool that was slowly making its way from my lips to my shirt front via way of my beard (not a good look no matter what country you are in. I enquired how much it would cost for my family and I to partake in the much anticipated porky baguette. My enquiry was received with nothing but a blank look followed by a smile. I asked again how much this would cost, this time using hand signals so as to help my cause… alas the gesturing did not bring me any closer to purchasing this holy fruit, but only made me seem like I was trying to signal a small aircraft to land on the foot path.
Still I battled (baffled) on.
After what seemed like an eternity (honestly, I’m sure it didn’t take us this long to finalise the purchase of our house) I had finally secured the purchase of our banh mi.
The lady at the banh mi stand beckoned us toward a small plastic chair – a chair that would be part of a young child’s play set – which was where we would sit to eat our banh mi. This arrangement was clearly more suited to the smaller people of Asian descent who were swarming the footpath around me, but on that child’s play set is indeed where we sat and ate our first banh mi.
Something happened to me that day as I consumed that sandwich. The whole experience affected me like I never ever dreamt of being effected by a sandwich. It was the smell of the town, mixed with the noise of the streets, mixed with us sitting on children’s décor, and of course the little coal fired oven-crisped baguette filled with a porky meatloaf, cucumber, herbs and chilli dressing.
Holy fuck balls is all I have to say about that.
Every banh mi vendor has their own version of what can only be described as the National Sandwich of Vietnam, and every single one of these sandwiches we tried, how ever different from the last, was truly effing delicious. They could contain a selection or all of the following ingredients; BBQ pork, braised pork, pork sausage, pork meatloaf/terrine (these folks really love their pork and it is probably no secret that this is a contributing factor as to why I loved this country so much), pate, sometimes chicken, fried egg, cucumber, julienne carrot and radish, heaps of different herbs, mayo, fish sauce, braising juices and chilli paste/sauce on the crustiest of baguette – a parting gift from our old friends “the Frenchies” before they headed home in the 50’s. Très bon.
Prices ranged from 10,000dong (US$0.47 or AUS$0.60) for the most simple versions – maybe meat, a few herbs and a dressing – to 50,000dong (AUS$3.00 if you can’t do the math) for a more complex, multiple meats, possibly an egg, all the salads version, or the cheaper, simpler version but sitting in an actual restaurant not eating in the street…
This is something you do need to try before you move on from this earthly coil.
Banh mi are good.