“So do you miss home?” my mom asks me over FaceTime. I pause. Do I?
Moments of illiteracy, language barriers, or cultural differences can make me feel like throwing up my hands and booking a ticket back to good ole U.S. of A. Why are there no grocery stores? I am constantly asking myself while protectively hoarding a tiny pile of junk food bought from an even tinier mini mart like a dragon with its treasure.
I wear the same shirt three times in a row because we’re in a new city and I don’t feel up to figuring out how to do laundry, yet. There are 20 fuzzy T.V. channels in our hotel room, all in foreign languages except the Discovery Channel. I leave it on for hours for background noise. I see the same episode where Bear Grylls feeds President Obama a dead salmon for the third time just because it’s comforting to have something in English.
I rip my hair out over train tickets that need to be bought in advance, but can’t be bought with an American credit card. I send up a little prayer to the porcelain gods before venturing into a public restroom.
In the end, all of this feels just like part of the experience. In the end, it all works out. I don’t particularly find myself missing anything from America – except for one thing.
I would do some really horrible, unspeakable things for a Chipotle burrito right now, e coli and all.
“I miss Chipotle,” I say. My mom laughs. I am sitting in my hotel room in one of Asia’s food paradises – Hanoi, Vietnam and all I want is a huge, Americanized, cheesy, sour creamy burrito wrapped in tin foil. In this moment, I would even pay the $4.00 for guacamole. Slap it on there.
“Really? Nothing else.”
I shake my head. After we hang up, I scour Vietnammm.com for a restaurant that might do the trick. I do love Vietnam’s food delivery culture. Practically anything I want is at my fingertips – that is, except Chipotle. After a disastrous food poisoning episode in Saigon (from food ordered on Vietnammm!), I have been restless and unsatisfied with anything Vietnam can offer me, food wise.
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Food has always been a source of comfort for me. Daily stress can ratchet up several notches by sheer virtue of being in a foreign place and my cravings are achingly persistent. I keep telling myself if I can sate one of my cravings I’ll be okay but I am tired of mediocre facsimiles featuring plasticky cheese, weirdly sweet ketchup, French fries made with the wrong kind of potato, and bizarre “Fresh Milk” that doesn’t soak into Oreos or cereal like actual, you know, fresh milk.
In Hoi An, there is a restaurant that serves up bahn mis that Anthony Bourdain declared to be the best in Vietnam. You can extrapolate from there that that means they’re the best in the world. I was so excited to roll up to Bánh mỳ Phượng to try this 20,000 dong (~$0.90) wonder. I thought, finally, here’s a thing I love from the U.S. that should be even better here.
The result? It was okay.
The sandwich didn’t resemble what I had come to know and love as a bahn mi back in Portland. The cilantro was gone, the pickled carrots and daikon were replaced with cucumbers and tomato, the mayonnaise was all but missing, and the meat was room temperature and of an indeterminate nature with a cube of fat snuggled in the middle. Beef? Pork? Squeezle? Who knows.
It was a perfectly good sandwich (once the cube of fat was picked out). But it was not what I was hoping for.
I open a new tab in my browser and search, “international Chipotle locations,” but there is not one in Asia. I realize that I won’t have my fix until I make it back home. While I mourn that fact, I think about all the things I love here: the women with their baskets of flowers for sale, the strong coffee tempered with sweetened condensed milk, the train tracks that hug coastlines, the narrow rambling streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and yes, the food. The soft baguettes served with small containers of homemade jam, chewy snails bathed in lemongrass, salty bahn mis, few-pennies-a-glass bia hơi (fresh beer), and more I can’t even name.
I smile at my mom. “Yes,” I say, “But I’m having the time of my life here.”