A SHORT STORY OF PHO
NGHIA M. VO
         Pho (pronounce fuh)-from the French pot au feu-is the Vietnamese traditional beef noodle soup, which originated in Hanoi in the 1920-30's. The Vietnamese cooks who worked for the French thought it was a good idea to use the pot au feu for their families. It could be done simply, cheaply, and in an appetizing way. While the French soup was laden with vegetables and beef, the cooks modified it by using discarded beef bones, which still gave it a rich meaty smell and texture without the high cost of beef. In the cool northern climate, pho caught on like wildfire and became the regular household soup for the Vietnamese. Some people thought pho had a Chinese origin, although it seems unlikely because pho had never been used before by the Chinese until very recently. Chinese soups like mi and hu tieu were based on the broth of pig, not beef bones.

         The northerners brought the pho with them when they migrated South in 1954. However, consuming hot beef noodle soup in a hot southern environment was not exactly appealing, therefore pho lagged behind the other southern noodle soups like mi and hu tieu. It was only in the late 1960-70's that the modified southern pho-with the addition of bulky portions of beef and bean sprouts, cilantro, coriander leaves-took an upward swing.

         While pho was completely unknown abroad before the end of the 1970's, its worldwide spread parallels the Vietnamese diaspora. Wherever Vietnamese would settle, they would open pho stalls-these restaurants that served only pho. Pho thus made its way to the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Australia, England, Japan and other western countries and metamorphosed into something completely different from the native version. The noodle and beef portions took on gargantuan sizes. Different types of meat were also used (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket, tendon, tripe, chicken, meatballs, and now even seafood). A vegetarian pho could also be ordered . The variety of fresh vegetables like cilantro, basil leaves, bean sprouts, onions, coriander leaves, and lemon adds a new dimension to the pho. One could easily see how foreigners who visited a pho stall for the first time could be awestruck when a large bowl of pho and an even larger plate of herbs and vegetables were placed in front of them.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE SORROWS OF WAR AND PEACE.
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