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I was living thousands of miles away from home when I worked in Cambodia. I had occasional moments where I missed my family, especially my mom. Growing up on Saturday mornings, I often woke up to the aromatic smell of pho wafting from the kitchen, thanks to her. It isn’t always possible for me to eat her Vietnamese noodle soup, so I relished any chance to have pho elsewhere in the world. In this case, eating pho in Cambodia was no exception to my little personal rule.
Phnom Penh is often clogged with incoming traffic, so seeing the city when there’s barely anyone on the road is a welcome respite. On Saturday mornings, I would wake up around 6:00 am to go biking along Diamond Island, a nearby lot of land with wide pathways encircling the entire area. I bike between 30-40 minutes, feeling happy to get my morning exercise while getting a view of the Mekong River. Afterwards, I would leave the island and bike towards a restaurant, simply named Pho. Given the large number of Vietnamese residing in Phnom Penh, there are several Vietnamese restaurants in and around the city. The Pho restaurant wasn’t the most well-known or considered to be the top place for pho, but it definitely had the best location to observe the daily routines of the local residents.
I parked my bike and sat outside to order my weekly Vietnamese meal. As I patiently waited, I took my teacup to serve myself some tea. When the small bowl of pho arrived, I grabbed my chopsticks with anticipation and started putting mint leaves into the beef broth. The beef is almost rare, giving it a softer, less chewy texture. As I happily slurped and ate the flat wide noodles, I looked out and saw a group of orange-robed monks walk past the Buddhist temples to ask Cambodians to give their daily alms. At this point, the sun has already risen and humidity has started to rise. I would see an occasional local leisurely pass by with his motorbike. As I ate in solid contentment, moments like these made me appreciate how a deceptively simple meal can allow me to appreciate the foreign and unfamiliar while feeling instantly connected to my home.
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