Everyday Adventures: The Search For Peace Soup
Pho Binh is a small noodle shop that was a front for one of the resistance cells involved in planning the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War (which is, not surprisingly, called the American War in Vietnam).
Ever since arriving in Ho Chi Minh City in 2007 I have been meaning to check out Pho Binh, not only because I love pho but because of it’s historical significance. But it’s been one of those things that I never got around to doing.
Until we were contacted by an Australian couple who are organising culinary and battlefield tours. They were interested in including our street food tours in their first tour to Vietnam in August.
I mentioned we could include Pho Binh in a tour, since it combined food and Vietnam’s military history and it is pretty close to “our” Snail Street. (There are a few in Ho Chi Minh City). Cath Hopgood said the pho shop sounded like just the thing.
So one Sunday morning we set out to sample the noodle shop’s “peace soup”. (Binh is the Vietnamese word for peace.)
However, one member of our party wasn’t feeling particularly peaceful that morning.
“I don’t want to go in there,” Miss M declared as we pulled up out the front of Pho Binh.
“I don’t want to eat,” she announced as we sat down at a table.
“I WANT PINK JUICE,” she yelled after spotting a man drinking the pink Vietnamese energy drink called Sting.
“I WANT PINK JUICE,” she screamed, going a little pink in the face herself. Oh my. And here’s me feeling a bit whiny and overtired myself. Not in the mood to deal with one of Miss M’s very rare three-year-old tantrums.
Darling Man ordered our phở and a short time later two steaming bowls of phở gà nạc (lean chicken pho) arrived. And they looked delicious.
“I DON’T WANT TO EAT,” Miss M thundered.
“Ok. Mummy will eat,” I said. “You can drink juice.”
“PINK JUICE,” she demanded shrilly.
Darling Man and I concentrated on throwing herbs in our soup. I furtively spooned noodles, soup and lean chicken into a baby bowl, hiding my actions behind my own giant bowl of peace soup.
The soup was pretty darn good. Sweet and salty and very tasty.
Miss M finally accepted a mouthful of cooled-down noodles. And for all of four seconds we had peace at our table.
The truce broke when we moved into the circus act of one-spoonful-of-noodle-soup-for-you-and-one-for-me.
Finallly, we reached the bottom of our bowls. I was keen on taking some photos and investigating the secret war room upstairs.
Miss M had other plans.
“I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND,” she demanded.
We told her we’d take her after we finished our research in the noodle shop. She did not become agreeable.
When I pulled out my camera, Miss M decided that she must be photographed in her jeans. So she proceeded to pose in all kinds of weird positions to show off her new clothes.
The noodle shop’s designated tour guide took charge of us, demanding we hand over our camera so we could be photographed in various locations around the shop and upstairs in the small room that now has the long title of Command Post Office of Subdivision 6 in the General Offensive and Uprising of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Miss M alternated between trying to get her jeans into the photos and screaming for the playground.
A little girl appeared in the war room upstairs. She helped us stage a dramatic re-enactment of the Tet Offensive planning.
When the adults’ backs were turned, the little girl and Miss M proceeded to have a tea party with the 50-year-old tea set.
After that little party was terminated (prematurely, according to the participants), it was back to playground demands.
So we hustled our little dictator out of the war room and down the street. We tried to distract her with a flock of pigeons being fed on the sidewalk. We tried to distract her with a visit to a high-end áo dài shop.
Nothing doing. We went to the playground. Where we finally found some peace.
The Australian couple I mentioned are the brains behind Cook with Love, a company that does cooking classes and culinary and battlefield tours. Cath Hopgood is a long-time chef and her husband David Hopgood is an Australian soldier who found fame in the third series of My Kitchen Rules television show.
The talented team have organised a tour of Vietnam later this year, which will include a Saigon Street Eats night tour with a few extras, including a visit to Pho Binh and a secret munitions store. For details of the 10-day tour, click here.
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