Writing this from an Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam, my hands are still shaking, my neck tense from fear.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with Anthony Bourdain. I’ve memorized every episode of No Reservations, feverishly flipped through each of his books, and am anxiously waiting for the day he discovers my blog and insists for me to be his younger, equally-as-charming co-host.
The day before I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I thought back to the episode where Anthony wades through a sea of speeding motorbikes in order to taste the area’s sought after specialty, bánh xèo. Bánh xèo (literally meaning “sizzling cake”) is a Vietnamese savory crepe made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder and coconut milk, stuffed with thin pieces of pork, small prawns and bean sprouts. The crepes are pan fried and served with lettuce, mint and basil leaves for wrapping, and a sweet and sour diluted fish sauce for dipping.
The camera had zoomed in on the frying pan, capturing the crackling of the oil. It panned over to Tony and his Vietnamese companions shoving fist-fulls of lettuce and fried crepe into their mouths. The speakers amplified the loud crunching sounds from every bite. The whole scene was what I personally define as food porn. I was sweating, drool was dripping from the sides of my mouth. It all felt a little wrong. I needed that bánh xèo, and I knew if I ever made it to Vietnam, it would be the first on my list of must-eat foods.
It took about 20 minutes to get to the restaurant, but it felt like two hours. My nails dug into my friend Ben’s shoulders, my thighs clinched the back of his. I forgot how to breathe. Thousands of motorbikes whizzed by us in every direction. I could feel the wind as they brushed by, inches from hitting my legs. Tour buses honked their horns and blew through red lights. Pedestrians ran into oncoming traffic. People were driving on the sidewalks. I closed my eyes and prayed, thinking about how good the bánh xèo was going to taste.
I observed the scene: Middle-aged men and women sharing spring rolls and beers, people breaking into their crepes with chopsticks, another tourist photographing his every bite. I eyed the same table Anthony had graced and plopped down into the low-sitting plastic chair.
The sounds of buzzing motorbikes and sizzling oil filled the air, and the smell of coconut and prawns filled my nose. Moments later, a massive plate-sized crepe laid before me, bean sprouts bursting from its sides. I cut a crunchy end piece with my chopsticks and wrapped it in the greens, just as I had seen Tony do. I dipped it in the fish sauce, just like Tony had done. I bit down on the perfect piece and listened to it crunch.
It was one of those moments that felt like it should be monumental, but instead it reminded me of the magic of television. After a few minutes, the giant crepe had gone a bit soggy. It was a tad greasy, and I didn’t taste the coconut.
Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but not the stuff food porn is made of. And certainly not worth the near-death experience on the motorbike.