The journey began last Tuesday eve. I’d been stuck inside the house with the boys all day long and couldn’t bear the thought of making dinner. ‘Let’s go get something to eat,’ I implored when the professor hinted he needed to go to Canadian Tire. [Alone.]
So we loaded the boys in the car-van and headed to the strip mall containing the all-purpose store. The same strip mall that also houses a Vietnamese restaurant. ‘Why can’t we just eat at home,’ the Gort lamented. As if it was terribly inconvenient for him to have to sit in a car and be driven to a restaurant.
It was one of those parental moments where you just want to swivel your head 180 degrees so your fiery gaze can fully incinerate the conscience of the complainer in the back. Where you want to say things like ‘do you have any idea how tired I am from countless nights of staying up way too late, schlepping boxes all over creation, trying to create a home for you while inconveniencing you as little as possible?! We can’t eat at home because I am, quite simply, too tired to make even macaroni and cheese from a box.’
But, these are the things you can’t say to a child. Not out loud anyway. Instead, I mumbled something about being too tired and we pulled into a parking spot and settled ourselves in a booth by the window.
We’ve only eaten Vietnamese food twice before, so I was at a bit of a mental loss while flipping through the expansive menu. What to get? What to get. And then I remembered about that noodle soup – that ‘pho’ – that ‘everyone’ is always talking about.
I scanned the menu looking for something called pho. Nothing. But there was something called ‘traditional vietnamese beef noodle soup’. Surely the same thing? It was settled. Number 38. Not too spicy.
Minutes later, the owner set an enormous bowl of broth and noodles and tiny pieces of meat before me. Along with a ‘condiment’ plate of bean sprouts, limes and reasonably fresh looking cilantro and thai basil.
I dipped my spoon, tasted, and I was sold. Slightly spicy, sweet, salty, and fragrant. ‘Do you want to try some of mine,’ the professor asked. ‘Nope,’ I declined, without the customary counter-offer of a sample of my dish.
Five minutes later, the younger boys had gotten restless and the professor had finished his meal, while I’d barely made a dent in my trough of pho. So they headed over to Canadian Tire while the Gort and I sat side by side in the booth, finishing the gynormous bowl of soup.
The very next day, having endured a trip to the Superstore with the wonder-triplets, I found myself slumped in the driver’s seat. Starving. With, as luck would have it again, a take-out menu from the Lemongrass Restaurant. The same restaurant we’d frequented eighteen hours earlier. I even had a cell phone. With a charged battery.
I dialed the number. ‘Number 38. Not too spicy. Take out.’
And, ten minutes later, I was back in the car with an aromatic white plastic bag; heading home.
I divided the soup among four bowls and we ate our (repeat) lunch rather happily. ‘Can you get these noodles again tomorrow?’ the Gort asked. I imagined driving to Lemongrass again and again until I became ‘number 38, not too spicy’ at first glance. Like Norm from Cheers, but instead of sliding me a beer, they’d just hand me styrofoam containers in a plastic bag.
I imagined my bank account riddled with daily $9 debits while picturing the four of us suffering from some sort of fish sauce-induced scurvy.
‘Mmmmm, yeah, probably not.’ I dashed my oldest’s dreams.
But then Friday rolled around. And I’d spent half the day driving the Gort to and from a birthday party, visiting the likes of Costco and the farmer’s market. It was 4pm. And I was tired. And there ‘happened’ to be a Korean-Vietnamese restaurant in the vicinity.
I ordered what I thought was their version of ‘number 38, not too spicy’ but when I got home, I knew I had a pho-fail on my hands. After two bites, my mouth was on fire; any semblance of flavor obliterated by the presence of too much heat – clearly intended to mask the subpar broth.
So I did what anyone else would do. I decided to make my own pho.