March 24, 2013
To be separated from what's around you by a pane of glass would be to miss -- everything.
by Anthony Bourdain
"The only way to see Hanoi is from the back of a scooter. To ride in a car would be madness -- limiting your mobility to a crawl, preventing you from even venturing down half the narrow streets and alleys where the good stuff is to be found. To be separated from what's around you by a pane of glass would be to miss -- everything. Here, the joy of riding on the back of a scooter or motorbike is to be part of the throng, just one more tiny element in an organic thing, a constantly moving, ever-changing process rushing, mixing, swirling, and diverting through the city's veins, arteries, and capillaries. Admittedly, it's also slightly dangerous. Traffic lights, one-way signs, intersections, and the like -- the rough outlines of organized society -- are more suggestions than regulations observed by anyone in actual practice. One has, though, the advantage of the right of way. Here? The scooter and motorbike are kings. The automobile may rule the thoroughfares of America, but in Hanoi it's cumbersome and unwieldy, the last one to the party, a woolly mammoth of the road -- to be waited on, begrudgingly accommodated -- even pitied -- like the fat man at a sack race."
"What is not debatable is that a perfect bowl of Hanoi pho is a balanced meeting of savory, sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and even umami -- a gentle commingling of textures as well: soft and giving, wet and slippery, slightly chewy, momentarily resistant but ultimately near-diaphanous, light and heavy, leafy and limp, crunchy and tender. There -- and nearly not there at all. Were this already not enough to jerk a rusty steak knife across your grandma's throat, empty her bank account, and head off to Hanoi, consider the colors: bright red chilies; the more subdued, richer-red toasted-chili paste; bright green vegetables; white sprouts. Pinkish-red raw meat, turning slowly gray as it cooks in your bowl, the deep brown colors of the cooked meat, white noodles, light amber broth. Nearly all God's colors in one bowl."