I was an intern in Hanoi, Vietnam in the summer of 2001. I’d never been to Vietnam before I accepted the job. I arrived on a dusty, sweltering afternoon and watched a rickety, faded metallic bus drive over the tarmac to pick us up as we disembarked the plane. The customs and border control officials, while serious and no-nonsense, sat behind painted plywood booths akin to lemonade stands. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a developed or glamorous place.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with the countryside, its people and the wonderful cuisine with an emphasis on light, fresh ingredients. I most especially loved bun. No, not like hamburger buns. Bun is a rice vermicelli noodle salad that can be served with all sorts of meats — chicken, grilled beef, pork patties, small egg rolls. On top of a cold bowl of noodles are heaps of fresh veggies, from bean sprouts to basil to mint to all sorts of other fresh Vietnamese greens I couldn’t even begin to identify and that probably aren’t widely available here in the U.S. Before work every morning, I’d stop by my favorite little bun house (or pho house, if I was in the mood for a noodle soup) and for less than a dollar I’d eat like a king. Good times.