Simple Yet Complex: PhoCaroline NguyenAAAS 100Truc HaOctober 24, 2017Simple Yet Complex: Pho Growing up, I remember eating my mom’s homemade pho at least once a month. I remember being asked what I wanted to eat, and every time, my answer would be pho! After the fall of Saigon in 1975, my family immigrated from Vietnam to the United States and brought alongside with them was their recipe for Pho. I know many Vietnamese families who claim their pho is the best pho out there, but to me, my mom makes the tastiest soup. If you step foot into Orange County, there is an abundance of mom and pop Vietnamese pho restaurants within a mile radius! So if mom did not make pho this week, then a bowl of pho is always readily available. To me, pho is my childhood.
It connects me to my Vietnamese roots. Pho to me means cooking alongside mom and watching her brew the broth for 8 hours, watching her use such simple ingredients such as onions and ginger to bring magic in a bowl. Pho meant interlocking my childhood with my mom’s childhood while cooking, and hearing her stories about making pho with her mom. Pho in a way, is a transient way of combining past, present, and future generations to continue a story about one another.History of Pho Upon looking a bowl of pho, you will recognize the clear, dark broth, the noodles, pieces of or combination meat (rare steak, meatball, filet mignon, etc.) garnished with onions, bean sprouts, mint leaves, and coriander topped off with fresh limes, chili, and hoisin sauce. So how did this bowl full of simple ingredients become a staple dish of Vietnam? Pho has a huge connection to the French.
According to Cuong (2009), pho began in the northern region of Vietnam and started around the time when the French colonized the country in the late 1880s, but according the Greeley (2002), the origins of pho are unclear. The same article states that before the French colonized the country, Vietnamese people did not slaughter cows for food. Instead, they used cows for agricultural purposes such as cultivating the rice fields. Cuong (2009) states that “pho” is the translation of the French word “feu” meaning “fire” and the dish is a French adaptation of the dish “pot au feu”, a Fresh beef stew. On the contrary, the article by Greeley (2002) states that pho has nothing to do with the French dish, but instead, it is believed it was taken from the Chinese language where a vendor sold the soup around town calling it “fen.” The first part of the word sounded like pho, and soon, the Vietnamese would later drop the letter “n” creating a new word meaning “beef noodle soup” (Greeley, 2002).Simple, Yet Complex? Recipe by Andrea Nguyen of Steamy Kitchen (2017) The main ingredients of pho consists of meat, noodles, herbs, and spices.
Each of these items are really simple. They can be found anywhere and can be easily harvested. But beyond the ingredients is the complexity of creating the actual dish.
To make a really good bowl of pho, you need to put out at least 8 hours of a day to simply just simmer the broth. But in that broth is yet another complexity—the beef bone. Usually, bone marrow, oxtail and knuckles bones are used in cooking the broth.These bones are parboiled in boiling water for 10 minutes to get rid of the impurities. All the bone scum will rise to the top. This will be the indication to dump out the water and be refilled with clean, cool water providing a clean-tasting broth. Other simple ingredients are onions and ginger, but within these ingredients are the complex way of tying these ingredients into the soup.
The onions and gingered are charred over an open flame into they turn into a golden brown. Ginger is a key essential to making pho. It provides the aroma and sweetness as well as a hint of spice to the broth. Ginger suppresses the rankness of meat and cuts the richness of a fatty dish (Cost, 2000).
The ginger and onions will be thrown into the beef broth along with a mesh bag containing star anise, cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds, and cardamom. Also, fish sauce (it is literally in every Vietnamese dish)! All of these ingredients combined together, simmering for hours and hours creates a bowl of yummy goodness. Assembling the bowl includes the rice noodles, meat toppings, onions and cilantro. Each bowl will include a side serving of bean sprouts, mint leaves, Thai basil, Thai chili, and lime wedges. To make the dish extra yummy, hoisin and sriracha are added to make the soup sweet and spicy.Conclusion Pho has always been my go-to comfort food.
When I am sick, I eat pho. When the weather is cold, I eat pho. After a night out with friends, I can always count on a 24/7 pho restaurant to eat at.
When you ask a Vietnamese person to name a popular dish associated with their culture, you can bet their first answer would be pho. To many Asian Americans who are born to an immigrant family, many of them would connect their culture to this staple dish. It is revolutionary in a way where something bad had happened that brought out something good. It became a dish where Vietnamese people have openly welcomed anyone to try. These fresh ingredients and mixed spices are so simple, yet, creating this dish is extremely time-consuming, but the end result gives us the warm, savory, fresh, and fulfilling flavors of the overall beef noodle soup. It is the idea of taking simple ingredients, using parts of a cow that many people do not know of, and taking different kind of spices to elevate it into a culinary dish.
ReferencesCost, B. (2000). Asian ingredients: a guide to the foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. New York: HarperPerennial.
Greeley, A. (2002). Pho: The Vietnamese Addiction.
Gastronomica, 2(1), 80-83. doi:10.1525/gfc.2002.
(2009, April 08). The History and Evolution of Pho: A Hundred Years’ Journey. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from http://www.lovingpho.
com/pho-opinion-editorial/history-and-evolution-of-vietnamese-pho/Vietnamese Pho Recipe. (2017, November 16). Retrieved December 11, 2017, from https://steamykitchen.com/271-vietnamese-pho-recipe.html