Pho, Vietnam’s Perfect Sick Food

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Photo courtesy of Clevelend Scene (via Google Search)

When planning for a long trip, you do lots of preparation. You pack medicines you think you might need, you get vaccines, you sketch out your itineraries, and you try to learn what you can about the places you want to go. What you never plan for is actually getting sick. Luckily for us, we got sick in the land of noodle soup: Vietnam.

Many of you out in blog readerdom will recognize this soup dish as pho. It is universally available in Vietnamese restaurants in the US, and in the Bay Area, so much so that local Vietnamese restaurants frequently have the word pho in their names.

Pho at home is delicious, and pho in Vietnam, as a traditional dish and daily staple, is even more delicious (unlike bahn my, which, I have learned and explained in an earlier post, is merely a convenience food over here). It is a rice noodle soup most frequently made with beef or pork in a wonderful, rich broth with scallions, garlic, and chili. It is served with garnishes including mint, basil, bean sprouts, chilis, lettuce, lime, and more. In the US, they do all the garnishing for you, whereas in Vietnam, you do it all yourself so you have more control and choice. We didn’t know what we were doing, but after four or five attempts, we got the hang of garnishing the dish so that it tasted great.

Rebecca got sick first. And when Rebecca gets sick, she wants chicken noodle soup. So naturally, I brought her delicious and nutritious chicken noodle pho as often as she could tolerate it. She holed up in our various hotel rooms until she was healthy enough to travel, and then we holed up together in Hanoi for a week once I got sick, eating chicken pho and drinking tea and orange juice until we couldn’t handle being in bed anymore.

The availability of pho makes Vietnam one of the top places to be sick in the world, but it’s still not as comforting as home. Plus, being sick on vacation severely diminishes your chances of seeing what you want to see, which is a big bummer. But when we finally left our hotel room after five or six days of being super sick, we realized one huge advantage that being sick in a hotel has over being sick at home: cleaning service. We told the hotel staff that it was finally safe to enter and clean the room, and when we returned that afternoon, they had disinfected everything, taken out all of our snotty trash, and gave us new towels and new sheets. It was wonderful.

Being sick on vacation sucks, but it doesn’t mean you have to eat Campbell’s imported condensed chicken noodle soup. Find a soup in your vacation destination and learn how to get takeaway (or teach the person you are traveling with to do it for you). Then sit back with your tissues and orange juice, watch some international television, and ride it out with your local chicken noodle soup. With any luck, you’ll be back on your feet in no time to see the sights.

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