Credit: Brown W. Cannon III

The Assignment: Shot Hanoi, Saigon, and Hue in 12 days (“Ultimate Food Guide to Vietnam”)

Trip Time: It took 30 hours—including a transpacific leg and layovers in Seoul and Singapore—to get to Hanoi, but I was invigorated upon arrival. Just stepping out to explore the city was energizing.

Pho Gia Truyen Canteen, Hanoi

The Scene: Pho with beef and scallions.

On Eating Soup with Chopsticks: It’s noodles first (using your right hand), then broth with the spoon in your left.

How I Got That Shot: I managed not to eat the subject before I took its photo.

The Key Here Was... Simplicity. I used a small f-stop (f/2.8), or a wide-open lens, to create a narrow plane of focus that brought only what I thought was important—the food—into the forefront. All other distractions, like the toothpicks and the condiments, fade into the background.

Pho Gia Truyen (a.k.a. Pho 49 Bat Dan)

Pho Gia Truyen, on Bat Dan Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, doesn’t look like much from the outside—or from the inside, for that matter. The room has a clock, two fans, three bare lightbulbs, and a handful of communal tables. The only decoration is the food itself: hulking slabs of brisket suspended from hooks, a hillside of scallions on the counter, and a giant cauldron puffing out fragrant clouds of steam like some benevolent dragon. A cashier takes your money (about a dollar a serving), her colleague fills a bowl with noodles and chopped scallions, and a teenager with a faux-hawk ladles strips of ruby-red beef into the broth to cook for two seconds, then spoons it all into the waiting bowl. Half of Hanoi queues up for a seat, while others slurp their soup perched on motorbikes outside. All wear serious expressions, and eat in a silence that feels not joyless but reverential. The stock is so wholesome and protein-rich you feel yourself being cured of whatever might ail you, perhaps of anything that ever could.