I’m sitting in an air-conditioned cafe near my residence watching the motorbikes and bicycles pass by on the street as the warm afternoon draws to a close and the warm Long Xuyen evening begins. Over the past couple of months I’ve been eating more “standard” Vietnamese food for lunch. When I worked at An Giang University, I tended to stick to a cafe near campus and the line-up of foods was pretty standard for me, like rice with grilled pork or a fried egg with a sardine in tomato sauce. However, more recently a guy who works in the office below my room has been inviting me to have lunch with him and I’ve been eating quite a few different things that I rarely used to eat during my previous tenure here in Long Xuyen.

One thing that I really do enjoy is the intensity of the flavors of some of the things I eat. I think I’m obsessed with dipping things in fish sauce into which I’ve chopped a fresh chili pepper; it certainly adds a different zest than A1 sauce, for example. Another thing that I’ve taken to eating almost every day now is something that’s translated as bitter melon in English. As the name suggests, it has a very bitter flavor that I’ve grown to love, and it’s even better when I dunk it in the fish sauce-chili concoction that I mentioned above.

I’ve taken to eating more fish as well, which is something that I used to avoid at all costs before because of the profuse number of bones that one has to contend with. However, with some help and lots of observation, I’m slowly learning the ways to pick bits of fish flesh from the bones and eat it with little or no danger of choking to death.