I have found my new breakfast obsession, and sadly, it exists only in Vietnam. Attempts to replicate it in home kitchens would fail miserably. Recently in Hoi An, Vietnam, I met up with a former culinary school instructor from New York who was working at a non-profit restaurant. Each morning we stepped out of the air-conditioned bliss of the hotel into a wave of heat, traffic noise, and repeated solicitations for "Taxi? Taxi? Motorcycle?" But the possibility of a great street food find was too enticing to pass up.
One morning we stopped by a particularly busy stall with the words "Banh Mi Op La" on the sign. Seconds later, a blaze sprang up on the stove. A cook in a snazzy fisherman's hat gave the pan a few swivels and tossed in some salt. He repeated to the tune of 3 finished plates a minute.
My Op La arrived, a beautiful mess of runny eggs, sausage bits, onions, and tomatoes still sizzling on a thin metal plate. The baguette came on another plate, with extra slices of cucumber and enough onions to warrant a second tooth-brushing. You use the bread to sponge up the eggs and tomato, spoon some onions and meat bits on top, bite, and wait for bliss. Banh mi op la was pure comfort food heaven, not least because it seemed so similar to huevos rancheros.
My stay in Hoi An was short, but we had to return one more time for that sizzling plate of eggs. I knew I would miss them. Even if I were to buy some good metal plates for my kitchen, they wouldn't have the same aura of the paper-thin metal that had cradled thousands of servings of Op La with barely a wiping in between.
We wouldn't be washing down our eggs with cold, dense cafe sua da, expertly mixed by the girls in the next stall. We wouldn't be mesmerized by the master himself cranking out so many plates without breaking a sweat. And we wouldn't be crouching on the tiniest of plastic stools, surrounded by indecipherable Vietnamese joie de vivre at this particular breakfast stall.