The first time I ever tried pho was in Charlotte, NC. It was 2004, and I had just moved there from Tampa. Fresh out of college, I had already blown through my huge $600 savings account, buying things like a washer/dryer. Thankfully, furniture in Charlotte was hella-cheap, being the bible/furniture belt. You know, given the amount of furniture and bibles, it's a shock that they had as many trees as they did in the city. I wish Denver could import some of those trees. Maybe it would cut down on some of the crazy wind we get here. Anyways, I've digressed.
The pho was from a fusion restaurant called Viet Thai Noodle House, which I just looked up and still has an impressive 4.8 stars according to google maps. Never having ordered pho before, I relied on the clearly not Asian, born and raised in Nascar country waiter to guide me through my first phoxperience. (That word didn't quite jive the way I want. Suggestions?) I don't recall our first conversation, but I just remember he guided me towards the Seafood pho....a decision I would stick with for probably 4 years before I became a beef convert.
The second time I went in there though, I distinctly remember our conversation, which centered around my order of Vietnamese coffee. Being my 2nd visit, I decided I was an expert and could just order things randomly from the menu without caution. Here's how this went:
Waiter: *Aw Hyuck, well y'all want anything else?
Ok i'm just kidding he wasn't that much of a yokel.
Waiter: Anything else?
Me: Uh...yeah can I get a Vietnamese coffee?
Side note: The only other non-american coffee I had at that point in my life was Turkish coffee. Which is basically like drinking rocks. So I should have known better than to go guns blazing into this coffee purchase.
Waiter: Oh WOW! You really know your stuff!
HUGE RED FLAG.
Me: "uhhhhhhhhhhh yeah."
Waiter brings this contraption over:
I stare at this for about 5 minutes, wondering how the hell to drink it. The way it works is the hot coffee drips down in the glass filled with condensed milk and ice. Then you stir it up and drink the overly sweetened no longer really coffee diabetic inducing beverage. That is not what I did. I, not understanding what was happening with this drip system decided to pick up the scorching hot coffee steel cup with giant holes in the bottom and try to drink it like an espresso. This was the result:
Since then, I have practiced in almost montage like ferocity and have become a pho eating champion. One day i will enter one of those pho eating challenges where you get a racy shirt that says something like "Pho King Champion" which seriously I want more than anything. Then I will really truly know my worth. But like any good documentary will tell you (see Beer Fest or that really bad ping pong movie with the guy who either is Jack Black or sort of looks like him...Pongs of war?), to really appreciate the subject you're studying, you must go to its country of origin and learn all its secrets.
That, and ONLY that is the reason that I've booked a ticket out to Vietnam in May! Slash, I'm also going to meet up with a friend who is traveling around Asia for 6 months and will happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City at that most fortuitous time that I am available to go. So, with a hotel booked on points, and a relatively cheap flight out, I'm head out to the city formally known as Saigon to sample the wares of the most mysterious Socialist country. If anything, it will confuse the TSA people that assume I'm a terrorist who will now think I'm a communist too.
I'm very excited to eat my weight in food, and then lose my weight in diarrhea after eating a bad scallop. I think that's what they refer to as a zero sum game. I'm also excited to learn if Vietnam has any historical or cultural significant outside of the rice noodle. The answer is probably not likely, but maybe I'll be surprised. Like who are these people. I understand that they are referred to as the Viet Kong, and that they had a gorilla for a king once. I guess that means we've gone to two wars with them now? They also wear giant hats while working in the rice paddies, and use boats on a river that are likely to sink at any moment. That might also be Japan I'm thinking of. And that's the totality of my known Vietnamese food related knowledge. I'm also excited to continue my quest to find an "American" restaurant in foreign countries, so I can find out what American food is. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is Dennys. And that's really sad. It's the grand slam of sadness. It's the pick any two of blues. It's the....it's the.....pho king worst.