It was a warm, sunny Friday with no clouds in sight. Carter pulled up to the restaurant a few minutes before 12pm. He got a text message from Ted on his way to the restaurant but didn’t have a chance to read it until he parked his car. Ted had arrived early and grabbed a table for them already. Carter entered the restaurant, which was buzzing with activity, and was immediately greeted by a man cleaning a table near the entrance. Various aromas, which were foreign to Carter, permeated the air. Carter told the gentleman that his friend was already seated at a table as he scanned the room quickly. He spotted Ted, who was waving at him from a small table at the back of the restaurant. Carter waved back and started to walk towards the table. Arriving at the table, he said hello and shook hands with Ted, then both men took a seat. Ted handed Carter a menu, which was written in both English and Vietnamese.
A few minutes later, a waiter approached the table, set down a couple glasses of water and asked if they were ready to order. Ted said they needed five minutes. The waiter nodded his head, then walked away. Carter told Ted he did some research on the restaurant and was excited about trying something outside his comfort zone, but he wasn’t sure if he was sold on eating pork blood. Ted told Carter that he could order bún riêu without pork blood, but he should consider trying it because it’s really good and he may end up liking it. Besides, the pork blood wasn’t going to kill him, just making him stronger. They both smiled and laughed. Convinced, Carter agreed with Ted. Besides, Carter had already come all this way, so he might as well go all out and try the bún riêu with pork blood. When the waiter returned to the table, Ted ordered two bowls of bún riêu, pork and shrimp spring rolls and Vietnamese iced coffee.
While Carter and Ted waited for the food and coffee, they brought each other up to speed on changes in their lives since the last time they saw each other. Ted told Carter he got a promotion at work last year. The extra income gave him a chance to move into a new home and live without a roommate for the first time in his life. He also met a woman online several months ago. The relationship was still in the honeymoon phase and things were going fairly well. Carter told Ted about his recent slump in life, starting with the intolerable manager at work, how he stopped pursuing his dreams of becoming a professional author and his current struggles with his YouTube channel. Ted was surprised that Carter wanted to be a YouTuber because he always thought of Carter as shy and introverted. Carter didn’t disagree, but somehow he felt comfortable talking to the camera. It was therapeutic for him to create videos and share them, even if it meant putting himself out there for the people to see.
The spring rolls, coffee and a plate full of various mints, shredded lettuce and two lime slices came out first. Ted grabbed one of the spring rolls and dipped one end of it into the small bowl of peanut sauce. He nodded his head to the other spring roll. Carter grabbed the other spring roll and mimicked Ted by dipping it into his bowl of peanut sauce, then took a bite of it. The rice paper wrappers were chewy but not too chewy. The combination of peanut sauce, shrimp, pork, noodles and veggies complimented each other well. The coffee finished dripping into the glass, so Ted showed Carter how to mix the ice, coffee and condensed milk. Carter took a large sip of the coffee, then set the glass back down. He dipped the spring roll into the sauce again, took another bite and nodded his approval to Ted along with a thumbs up. Suddenly, he felt a jolt surge through his body. He felt wide awake and very alert. He felt his heartbeats increasing, too. He thought to himself, “How strong is this coffee?” before taking another sip of it.
Ted and Carter finished eating the spring rolls at the same moment the waiter returned to their table with a tray with two bowls of bún riêu. The waiter set down a bowl in front of Ted and Carter each, then refilled their glasses with water. “Let’s dig in,” Ted said. He grabbed a pair of chopsticks and a spoon from a tray on the table, then skillfully used his chopsticks to grab and transfer shredded lettuce and mints from the plate to his bowl. Then he took one of the lime wedges, held it over the bowl and squeezed it. Finally, he added some hot sauce from one of the bottles sitting in a box with condiments, then mixed the food in his bowl and sipped the broth he put on his spoon. “I hope you like it,” Ted said before he began eating his food.
Carter grabbed a pair of chopsticks and a spoon too. It was his first time ever using chopsticks so he had trouble gripping the shredded lettuce and mints. Somehow he managed to add the lettuce and mints to his bowl despite his lack of dexterity. He added the lime to his bowl just like Ted, but he didn’t add any hot sauce. Then he used his spoon to try the broth first per Ted’s recommendation. The broth was delicious and was rich with flavors that were, up to that point, alien to him. Next, he put some of the white noodles, crab meat, tofu and tomatoes on his spoon. It was amazing. He never imagined in his wild dreams that this kind of food existed in the world.
Then it was time for the big moment. Carter grabbed one of the clotted pieces of pork blood with his chopsticks, closed eyes and put it in his mouth. He chewed slowly and swallowed, then opened his eyes. He was still alive. The blood was surprisingly good and didn’t taste like what he imagined it would be. Also, he liked it more than he thought he would. He told Ted that he liked everything and wanted to order another bowl. Ted laughed and told him to finish his first bowl, then decide if he wanted a second bowl. Carter took another large sip of the coffee, then started slurping his food again. Ted couldn’t help but smile as he watched his friend use the chopsticks with so much clumsiness but enjoying the food so much. Then he snapped out of his spell and returned to eating his food.