The Bottomless Pho

28th September, Berlin, 15:59, I get excited around 11:50 and run upstairs to prepare quickly for my favourite time of the day; lunch! My belly is groaning but I can’t even hear myself think as we walk past the red brick church whose bells are tolling loud, where time stops and we find ourselves at the exact spot under the same exact daylight and the exact same puffy clouds flying over the fairy towers day after day as if nothing happened between now and yesterday, as if the repetition lulls us into a sweet dream.

We reach our beloved asian restaurant around the corner of the block. Since the days are getting colder we sit inside. Big windows, warm lights, big smiles welcome us. We usually are the first customers, but the tables will be full before 12:30 and the loveliest white noise will fill the interior, blending into the steam of our Pho soups. 

The waiters know us and make a guess; two Pho? Yes. With? Beef and chicken bitte. We like to surprise them by ordering a different combo every day. Tofu and beef. Chicken and tofu. Tofu tofu, beef beef. We like to keep them on their toes.

Within minutes our Pho soups arrive. Two large bowls of absolute deliciousness! There is lime, chilli, and crunchy mung bean sprouts next to it. I put chilli in mine, she puts sprouts, and we both squeeze our limes to the last drop and lick our fingers in a ritualistic harmony. A hearty new waitress asks if we’d like garlic for our soups. We’ve been going to the same restaurant for two years and we’ve never heard of the garlic option. We say why not. She brings a jar of liquid with thinly sliced garlic and chilli in it. A strong smell hits our nose as we lift the lid; mouth-watering garlic. We both add three tea spoons of it in our Pho. Without tasting it, we know it’s a whole new game now. 

I’m a spoon, she’s a fork person. I eat everything using a spoon, but for pho I prefer a fork and she a spoon. I mix the noodles making sure the spiciness of the chilli, the sourness of the lime, and the earthiness of garlic is equally distributed around the soup. Then I roll the noodles around my fork and have the first bite of the day. It is heaven.

As we revel in our Pho she tells me the recent news from the war. I intensely feel the evanescence of our happy bubble. I lift the bowl to my face and drink its rejuvenating broth with slurpy relish. It’s at perfect temperature. Neither lukewarm, nor too hot. The warmth reaches my bones, colours intensify, all senses awake. I feel like I’m having a hot bath in the open air on a beautiful autumn noon. I wish my soup never ends and never gets cold.

But before I can finish my wish, like waking up from a dream, my Pho is gone, and I’m swiping the last remains of the herbs stuck to the sides of the bowl. We sit there for a few minutes digesting the reality of our finished lunch, trying to gather the necessary willpower to get up and go back to our laptops and remote work. I’m tempted to have a second Pho, but I know it would be sacrilege. Waiter brings our receipt without us requesting it; another special treat for they know she needs it for reimbursement. We tip gratefully for we know without their hospitality our Pho would never taste as divine.

Pho soup with beef

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