Thursday, December 30, 2010

3am noodles

Surprisingly this post isn't a story of late night revelry, ­which is the only situation you would normally find me talking about food at 3am...

10 months into my time in Vietnam, I think I've tried most foods you can get in this region. I'm so good at searching them out, that I've even started introducing local people to dishes that they didn't know they could get here.

I spoke before about breakfast, and the joy of a big bow­­l of noodles in the morning on the way to work. I've now settled into a rotation of t­wo favourites.

One of these, Mỳ Quảng, was the 'love at first sight' which I spoke about in my first food post. This intense crush has remained, despite a temporary falling out when I ate 3 bowls, felt quite disgustingly full, and went off it for a few weeks. 'Mỳ Quảng' is extravagant, boisterous and demands attention. It's full of fun and if you're in the mood it can be exactly what you want. But at other times it's just... too much.

My other breakfast favourite has crept up on me slowly­. It's quiet, understated and relatively unglamorous, but has proved to be reliable, consistant and comforting. 'Bún bò' is a simpler dish. Beef noodle soup. Less colour and pizazz than Mỳ Quảng. Less intense. Less complicated. But hot and filling and flavourful and good any time of day or night. It never lets you down.

Taking advantage of my time living here to eat plenty of both, last week I thought I should find out how they're made.....

Not content with looking it up online, I decided to go to the source. I normally eat at a small outdoor stall, 3 doors down from where I'm living. So one morning I asked the smiley lady (Cô Sáu), if I could go and cook with her the next day. Knowing that she starts serving at 6am, I was expecting a fairly early start, but I wasn't quite prepared for 3am! Still, if she can do it every day.... and I eat her noodles every day.... I should go....

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed, out the door, and up the street - where I stood looking suspicious under the streetlight. Thankfully the streets were deserted apart from a few rats running around, and they weren't going to try and pick me up or arrest me for prostitution.

At around 3.20am Mr Noodle (Chú Tấn) opened the grate at the front of their house, I said hello quietly, and he nearly had a heart attack. He was definately present when ­I asked her, but the 3am brain is a funny thing. I was very glad to see he gets up at that time too. Certainly by 6.30am when I go there to eat, he's reclining in a hammock while the missus works away. I was under the (mistaken) impression that he didn't do anything other than drink coffee.
So by 3.30am there's Mr Noodles, Mrs Noodles, Grandma Noodles and me. Mr gets the fires going outside. Mrs and I wash a lot of salad leaves. Grandma carries tables and chairs and bowls and chopsticks, and sets up for service.

Lemongrass is tied and mashed, garlic and chilli are pestled, pineapple is cubed, tomatoes are pureed, pork and shrimps are marinated and fried and sliced, spring onions and chives are chopped, teeny tiny eggs are boiled, oil sizzles, knives fly... I feel quite in the ­way in the tiny kitchen. Clearly so does the mouse, ­which scarpers.

At 4.30am a bag of bones arrives on a motorbike
At 5.00am a hunk of beef arrives on another motorbike, the sky begins to get light, the police start their physical training and the pagoda dong dude starts doing his darned donging.
At 5.30 a bundle of fresh noodles arrive on another motorbike, and people start passing by on their ­way to ­work.

At 5.45am I proudly serve the first customer a bow­l of the finest 'My Quang'.....

He clearly finds it very very amusing to be served by a foreigner, but says it's delicious. I probably looked quite scary after waking at that ridiculous hour, and he felt at risk of a ladle over his head if he said anything different! I don't know how­­ Mrs Noodles al­ways looks fresh as a daisy, and is so incredibly cheerful.

By 8am I'm almost dribbling w­ith tiredness, so after a nice bow­l of noodles, I head home for a nap.....

The figures:
The breakfast stall is the only income for the family of 3 (children grow­­n up and living else-where). They serve roughly 100 bo­wls of noodles, and provide about 40 takeaways. At 10,000 VND per bo­wl (that's about 30p) they'll take around 1,400,000 VND (£42) per day. The ingredients cost roughly 1,000,000 VND (£30) - leaving an income, bet­­ween 3 people, of around £12 per day.
Not a lot, hey. 

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