Weekends are an especially good time to go to Huong Binh, located in a restaurant-filled strip mall in the Little Saigon section of Seattle's International District. Food sales (and lines) spill out to the sidewalk, where you'll find prepackaged tapioca dumplings, fresh corn, marinating eggs, and mysterious Vietnamese confections—including neon-colored, mochi-like products that might have you dizzily seeing rainbows.
Scan the menu and you'll see a section of weekend-only specials. At virtually every table, someone orders bún măng vịt: duck broth soup with rice noodles and bamboo, along with an overflowing plate of poached duck. It's a fine choice, but even better for a hangover is Chao Long, or pork offal congee (a.k.a. gut rice soup, $7.50).
Upon first spoonful, the congee is beautifully bland, with a texture of loose rice porridge that's both hydrating and comforting. You'll soon start to appreciate the sharpness of the ginger strips and fried shallots, and be ready to add extras to the bowl.
Here's what I do: throw in torn pieces of Thai basil and jalapeno slices, which perk up the porridge. Bean sprouts add texture, as do the crunchy slices of crispy Chinese cruller. (The congee eats up any oily grease that accompanies those cruller slices.) I then toss in some of the meats, which include blood sausage, pork tongue, pork liver, and pig ear. What I enjoy most about the meats are the varying textures, including the tenderness of the tongue and the chewiness of the ear. (I also love the earthy, sometimes mineral-like taste of the blood sausage and the liver.) If you like, you can dip these pork pieces into a sauce of shrimp paste and tamarind; the fermented, tangy flavor will jump-start your tastebuds.
Chao Long is a warm, soothing, and nourishing way to wake up. Finish your bowl, and you'll be mentally fit to face the day, including that rainbow of colors you'll revisit on your way out Huong Binh's door.
1207 S Jackson Street, Seattle, WA 98144 (map); 206-720-4907
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.