Missing Saigon

It was a moment that will forever be embedded in my memory: a swarm of countless motorcycles rushing towards our lonely little cab, all coming from the opposite direction. Any one of those motorcycles could have collided with our vehicle. I should’ve been terrified.

But all I felt was excitement.

See, I had been warned about this, about the supposedly chaotic streets of Saigon. Anthony Bourdain described this in great detail in “A Cook’s Tour”; he thought he was going to die from the onslaught of vehicles.  A lot of websites and travel blogs say mostly the same thing. Everyone I know who has been to Saigon told me about the traffic.

To prepare myself, I kept in mind a friend’s words about surviving Saigon: I am the rock, and they are the stream. Sure enough, I witnessed that firsthand when the sea of motorcycles parted around our cab without leaving so much as a scratch.

With that mantra in mind, I felt confident enough to cross the streets of Saigon. With a couple of companions and a map, we walked around the city in search of Bourdain’s Lunch Lady, who supposedly serves the best beef noodle soup (pho) in the city.

It was not easy to find. The thought “this better be fuckin’ worth it!” crossed my mind a few times, especially after that first hour of walking. We had to ask some (thankfully very helpful) policemen for directions. Finally, after nearly two hours–we found it. I swear I could hear the faint sound of angels singing hallelujah in the background.

I had never been so happy to see a noodle stall in my entire life

I had never been so happy to see a noodle stall in my entire life

The place was packed, mostly with Caucasian tourists. We overheard a guy in one table actually talking about how much Bourdain raved about the food.

Was the pho worth the long and tiring walk? Lemme put it this way: I couldn’t and didn’t want to talk to my companions for what must’ve been a good half hour after the noodles were served.

Heaven in a bowl

Heaven in a bowl

 

"Lunch Lady" Nguyen Thi Thanh with her happy customer

“Lunch Lady” Nguyen Thi Thanh with her sweaty, dirty, but happy customer

I miss Saigon and its old-world charm. I miss its cheap, delicious food and its friendly people. I want to explore it again, and other parts of Vietnam as well.

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