Nick tears his eyes away from the screen for a moment and grabs his expensive leather bag from under the desk. Opening it, he pulls out the recycled paper Pret A Manger bag. He opens the plastic envelope and carefully, without spilling a single breadcrumb on his keyboard, starts to eat the 'freshly made' Italian Prosciutto and Mozzarella on Artisan baguette, while scrolling the latest stock market feeds. Sadly, this is his lunch break.
Mr. Nguyen is 78 years old and starting to feel a bit hungry. From under the counter of his little family 'everything' shop, where you can buy anything from matches to Christmas fairy lights, he pulls out his rusty handmade single stove and places it on the pavement just outside the door. He turns on the fire and goes into the back room to gather all he needs for today's pho.
It's lunchtime in Hanoi and here, it's not about being fast. Here, food is a serious business.
We are in Vietnam and this is not unusual. As we walk through the busy streets in the centre of the northern city, little improvised kitchens start appearing on pavements like mushrooms after the rain, blending in happily with the countless street food stalls.
Everywhere we look, coloured plastic tables and chairs arrive magically and life starts moving on the street. Smells of exotic delicacies fill the air of every corner. People get together, their conversations spreading over slowly sipped coffee. It's time for a break, for a chat, for a laugh or a gossip. But mostly it's time for eating, and in Vietnam, this seems to be a sacred moment.
Little camping burners, topped with woks full of frying vegetable oil, give birth to the crispiest spring rolls. A bunch of wood from an old broken chair burns on the pavement, smoking a pork belly dripping fat onto the grey asphalt. An old engine oil can, opened on one side with a piece of metal mesh on top, becomes the perfect barbecue. Saucepans filled with broths bubbling here and there are getting ready to comfort their owners like warm cuddles, while steamers sit above them, full of juicy dumplings bursting with plump shrimp and fresh herbs. The smell of every sort of pickle emanates from open glass jars, which have been used and re-used for years for the same delicious job.
Here, people want to know what they put in their stomachs and they want it to be good.
While watching children running around with succulent meat skewers in their chubby little hands, we take a seat at one of those plastic tables and grab a menu. My eyes are on it but I do not read. I think about our lives, our days, our lunch breaks in London. I ask myself if, when we're back home, I will give a bit more consideration to something as important as my midday meal. It's a moment to rest, to dedicate to yourself and your body rather than a random way to fill your stomach.
Of course, I'm not about to start a barbecue on Oxford street, even though it would be a lot of fun, but I'll definitely avoid spending it in front of a laptop or driving to the next meeting.
We order our food and I turn my head. Not far away on the pavement, in front of his little shop, Mr. Nguyen is happily sipping his warm soup. He looks at me and I notice a wise smile in his eyes. That smile taught me something new today, and I'm sure he knows I understood.