My First Bun Bo Hue

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It was almost closing time at Kim Chau, the aging and eccentric Vietnamese restaurant on Longpoint near Antoine. Kim Chau's dreary dining room, with its black-and-white checkerboard tile floor and tables covered with cobalt-blue vinyl tablecloths, glowed weirdly in the fluorescent light through the steamy front window. Kim Chau is famous for the spicy ham hock-and-lemongrass-noodle soup called bun bo hue. And a bowl of hot soup was just what I needed on that cold and rainy night.

There was nobody else in the dining room and I was eating alone, so I sat near a television set in the corner that was tuned to a Friends rerun. (I forgot how different Jennifer Aniston looked when she was younger.) When my soup arrived and the waiter disappeared, I more or less dived into the bowl, slurping the hot broth and noodles and chewing the fatty ham hock meat, the lean beef, and the other meat and offal with the complete abandon of an unsupervised child.

It was the first bowl of bun bo hue I have ever tried, and I ate it with a little too much enthusiasm. I was supposed to bring some soup home, but I knew my housemate wasn't going to like the fatty meat, the smell of fermented shrimp paste or the blood sausage cubes. So I got her some bun rieu, Kim Chau's snail noodle soup, instead. She didn't eat that either. Luckily, I also got her some plain vermicelli with eggrolls as a back-up.

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