We are 286 days into a world on actual fire, and I’m eating pho like it’s the secret antidote. Pho is the steaming security blanket to my current dystopian nightmares; the carbohydrate cure-all for my wintry blues; the delicious, healing constant in a world ravaged by political fuckboys and predatory weather. Eating pho is an aggressive act of self care for me; a chance to administer much-needed soup CPR. Over Vietnamese iced coffee and spicy noodle soup, I talk, brood, listen, heal, think, breathe, and just get right. No matter what state of mind I go in, I always come out better, and ready for whatever comes next.
Given our current political climate and the built-in anxiety, it’s no surprise I’ve eaten approximately 96,000 bowls of pho in the past 10 months (give or take a few bowls). Watching the world burn down around you can have that effect. Pho is the place I remember there are good things in the world while also bracing myself for it.
My first bowl of pho was not a transcendent experience. One of my best friends, Auticia, took me to a Than Brothers in Ballard, where I eyed the plate of garnishes meanly and the plate of cream puffs with confusion. Who ate these things together? There was sriracha on the table, and a giant squeeze bottle of dark mystery goo — all of which would be dumped into a bowl of broth with rice noodles, then paired with basil, bean sprouts, lime, and jalapeno. If the sriracha and jalapeno weren’t enough, there was an ominous jar of what looked like the jam equivalent of a fire alarm on the table. Why not pour gasoline directly into your mouth and then toss in a lit match? At the time, I didn’t even use black pepper because it was kinda spicy, you guys. The whole flavor mash-up was a bridge too far for this zero-star, plain-eating Queen of Mayonnaise.