The theme of food for our trip to Vietnam was freshness. As was the case when we were in Thailand two years ago, everything in Southeast Asia just screams fresh, especially since the cuisines there love to combine cooked elements with raw ingredients to lighten and refresh the palate. While I expected aspects like the mile-high plates of herbs, lettuce, and vegetables, what I did not expect were the fresh rice noodles in all the pho and other noodle soup dishes we had; for whatever reason, I just expected them to reconstitute the dried stuff, but nope. It was obvious from the chew and mouthfeel that these noodles were churned out fresh. No dried noodles here. And the one time I did see dried noodles, it was at the Danang Vietnam Airlines lounge in the dining area, where they had pho noodles that were instant pre set up in bowls for you to add your piping hot pho broth to.
When I think about aspects of Vietnamese cuisine like this, I think, no one in the modern world, or, well, New York City, who works full time could ever regularly have meals like this. Who has the time or energy to source fresh everything, whether it’s specific Vietnamese herbs or just-churned noodles, or freshly pressed tofu? I’d be running all over the city all day… which can’t work if I have a job. It’s totally intangible, though I do dream of having such ready and easy access to all these beautiful ingredients. Fresh food is really what most Americans don’t eat at all or do not get enough of. Vietnam even has me questioning the taste of chicken, as I distinctly remember having chicken three times during this trip, and while chewing, thinking, ‘Wow, this tastes… more chickeny, with a stronger, more assertive flavor that screams, hey! I’m not the bland meat! I have my own flavor, thank you!’ The piri piri chicken in Portugal last November was incredible, one of the best chicken dishes I’d had in my life, but that was because of the flavor of the marinade, the spices, the chili oil, and the charcoal grill… not the actual chicken meat itself. In Vietnam when I had chicken, I knew it was the actual flavor of the chicken flesh itself.
And sadly, I’m sure the average American would eat the chicken we had in Vietnam and say it’s gross or doesn’t taste right… because they’ve been accustomed to the bland and the boring chickens of mass-grown and produced America.