The streets of Saigon have already come to life just after the sun makes its appearance over the ragged, urban cityscape. Motos zoom by with passengers on the back, cyclo drivers push and pull their bandy legs on their vehicle’s pedals and the coffee vendors expertly funnel the rich, black, liquid caffeine from a silver, dented pot to glass mugs with bottoms full of cloyingly sweet condensed milk.
From a corner adjacent to my hostel in Saigon’s backpacker district comes a mingling of smells that is impossible to resist. There is the salty smell of frying eggs, the juicy aroma of sizzling meats and an overpowering and romantic fragrance of just-baked, crunchy baguettes. The street stall is run by a sturdy Vietnamese woman who doesn’t smile, she just concentrates on cooking her eggs to perfection.
I order a bánh mì trung with the works for breakfast. The sandwich, which I think is one of the more perfect breakfast foods in Asia, is a version of the famous bánh mì made with an added omelette. The woman hands me a steaming mug of coffee that looks like tar and tastes like heaven before she sets about making my Saigon street breakfast. With two swift cracks she breaks the eggs into the pan, moving the skillet about with the hands of an expert. A serrated bread knife cuts through the crunchy outside of the baguette to reveal a soft and puffy inside: the perfect loaf of bread, a legacy left by the French. The surly woman slices off pieces of páte and stuffs them into the baguette’s fissure. With chopsticks, she adds fresh herbs and vegetables: green onions, a few sprigs of cilantro, cucumber and shredded carrot.
In just a few minutes the sandwich is finished. The woman, with the corners of her mouth turned down, wraps the stuffed baguette in a piece of yesterday’s newspaper and snaps it shut with a thin rubber band. She hands it over, I pay and then unwrap the sandwich, feeling like it’s Christmas on the hot and sticky morning streets of Saigon. At that moment, sitting on the street corner eating my bánh mì trung off an old piece of newspaper and already starting to sweat from the southern Vietnamese heat, I am absolutely certain that there is nowhere in the entire world I would rather be.