My home is soup.
That’s not a metaphor, nor exaggeration. I do not live in a pot of broth, or eat it for every meal, but my home is still in soup. Specifically, the soup that my mother makes, simmering for hours in a large pot on the stove. It rolls off our Vietnamese tongues by practiced genes, and rolls back in by practiced appetites.
Many, thinking of Vietnamese soups, will immediately conjure an image of phở, the iconic dish of thinly-sliced beef, papery rice noodles, and a savory broth. But the noodle soup that truly roots me is bún bò Huế, or as my mother shortened it for my developing tongue, just bún. Where phở is calming, warm and welcoming, bún simply feels alive.
My mother’s recipe hasn’t changed much since I first remember having it- large chunks of beef shank simmering the whole afternoon to accumulate their rich broth, chile and lemongrass left to ignite spice on the way down your throat, raw bean sprouts or cabbage added at the end for juicy crunch, soft rice noodles that split perfectly between your teeth. It is one of the dishes I’d struggle using chopsticks on as a toddler, frustrated yet determined to learn. Being able to successfully resist my mother’s attempts to cut the noodles for my ease was an invisible rite of passage, confidently picking up the full-length, slippery noodles on my own. Much to my family’s bemusement, though, I still insisted on curling the noodles I’d snatched with chopsticks back inside my spoon, in order to have it directly with the broth and a bite of beef.
Bún, my parents would reiterate between clinks of bowls, was not a regular dish that they’d enjoyed back in Vietnam. They would say that about many dishes of ours, from spring rolls to sweet desserts, but this was one I simply couldn’t imagine having a childhood without. Bún brought excitement at the end of a long day, smelling the large metal pot simmering away and knowing we’d eat good for the next few days. For the longest time, I didn’t even know how to spell its name, having only ever spoken it and heard it around our family, as happened with so many traditional dishes. Who had time to write when you could eat instead?
My family and I have had our struggles in closeness and emotional distance, but settling
in to all eat together has always let us set aside differences in favor of chowing down. I am at home anywhere, as long as I can reach into the depths of my own mind- but with a large ceramic bowl of rich maroon soup before my eyes, I am taken back into the home around me. My home, that I recall fondly, is in food. My home is in my family’s cooking, and in eating for a feeling of fullness and fulfillment.
My home is soup.