Plan for day two: Follow up on some of my brother’s experiences here. First agenda: attempt to find the locus of what he termed “shit alley,” to which he appends: “The shit, in case you are wondering, was all human. Dog shit doesn’t leave the same kind of memory.” He nonetheless assures me of finding excellent soup and the opportunity to get a less-than-one-dollar, post-punk (if accidentally) haircut. I seem to recall he also got his ears scoured by a man with a testtube cleaner – clearly the cumulative wisdom of 10 millennia of eastern medicine. Sadly he can’t remember where he saw the bottles of snake “wine” (he brought some home and we tried the stuff – it was grain alcohol with a cobra and some spices in it -- tasted like celery-salt kerosene) and the giant vat (for those more enterprising who brought their own bottles) that contained 50-odd various snakes and a whole crow -- in full feather. I’m keeping an empty 2-litre fanta bottle with me just in case. My brother is clearly my brother.
Ok, due to my odd sleep schedule, didn’t make it to the central market till 10, and it was already overrun. Wow do white people look fat and pasty (oh wait, it’s because their aussies). But I wanted to find out what yesterday’s crazy noodle dish was, and I was armed with the vital phrase “what do you call this” that I learned from two Vietnamese college girls who stopped me on the street and asked if I’d fill out a survey on communication in Vietnam (and no this is not the beginning of a Penthouse letter...)
It turns out the noodle is called bahn beo, which is explained rather well 2/3 of the way down this chowhound post: http://chowhound.chow.com/
I was unable to do any more searching, as both google and yahoo here bring up their Vietnamese versions, so I can’t get anything in English. Alas.
From there the morning went rather downhill. The market was annoying, and I managed to eat bad Chinese-style noodles, thinking they were shredded squid. I no longer endorse that whole neighborhood and will never return. Then I went on a especially dusty and smog-filled goose chase through a charmless zone with perpetual peleton-like moto traffic, looking for another bridge over the river (it was on the map but is closed). Thankfully I got a cheap alveoli transplant on the way home and then went back to bed.
I had meant to return to district 4 (they aren’t called sectors, apparently, and, I’m told, the war is over), but I had to respond to so many emails teasing me about using facebook that the early afternoon got away from me. So I went back to my skanky snail alley (by the by, both my personal epidemiologist, dave kaufman, and my stepmother, a china expert, both cautioned against me taking in more asian shellfish in slums, but why trust them?) looking for the meatball bahn mi that eluded me yesterday. I tracked it like a guided missile. It was sold to me by one of the now 5 people I’ve seen in my life with that disease that gives you shockingly disfiguring bumps all over your skin -- in one extreme case the worst human deformation I’ve ever seen. Hers was very mild, mercifully. Still, not the best meatballs. And for a moment I thought I felt an internal gurgle. False alarm.
Next a trip back to yesterday’s fish cart where I had a whole one this time, also very yummy. Then through the other half of the sidewalk market by the river and under the bridge (pretty clearly the poorest of the poor parts of Saigon that I’ve seen yet) and sat down for a bowl of soup. Now, it’s an unspoken but religious sentiment in my family (at least between bro and me) that if the lady serving you food has three or fewer teeth, none of which in remote proximity to any of the others, that is a good sign. (though not agreed upon, I’m sure we would both call this the hobknobber principle, based on the café in new Orleans where I was asked, “How it was?!”). Spotting just such a woman crouched next to an enormous pot, i approached with interest. Now at least two further of my private principles were in play: 1) always eat under bridges by the river (preferably having just stepped out of your van-home), and 2) always get soup that has congealed blood cakes in it, even if you, like me, feel that congealed blood cakes – especially when floridly spiced – are perhaps the one food on the planet you know you don’t like. Get the soup, avoid the puddings.
The confluence of these made me feel that her cauldron -- what with the fish balls, wontons, pig tubes, and winter melon floating in it -- might give erik’s shit-alley special a run for its money. And my friends, it was sublime.
Now I was on a roll, and discovered one more street that I can endorse, packed with food stalls. Despite dave and beth’s advice, I couldn’t not round out lunch with a few fried shrimp, especially because they were still legged and with shells and embedded into the sides of a donut crueller (with a hot ketchup and chili dipping sauce) -- yummy (the legs provide a nice countercrunch to the donuty softness). Tomorrow or the next day I’ll go back and try the muslimy brik-looking thing that I saw (while hearing some middle eastern music) and the stuffed chilis that looked incredible.
So a bad day saved. Home now, I notice that the fan in my room says Asia in big letters. Yes, asia fan, I say back. Me too.