Bí Bếp đã viết bài "The Tao of Pho" từ 6 năm về trước với chủ ý giới thiệu một món ăn rất Việt Nam cho một số người bạn ngoại quốc và con em chúng ta lớn lên ở nước ngoài mà chẵng may không biết đọc tiếng Việt.
Pho is one of my most favorite Vietnamese dishes. Pho (pronounce as “fuh” from a low to a rising tone as from “fue to fuh”) is a most typical Vietnamese dish which represents Vietnamese cuisine as “simple yet sophisticated”. There are very few Vietnamese or anyone who claim to understand the Vietnamese or their culture, who don’t know you to eat or appreciate “Pho”. I, myself, have grown up with pho. I 've eaten pho and enjoyed pho as long as I could remember. Pho has all basic of nutritional valuẹ. It’s made from all natural fresh ingredients, which contain all basic nutrients for our body (carbohydrate from the rice noodles, protein from the meat and broth, vitamins and various minerals from the fresh mints and vegetable). Pho, sometimes, could be used a remedy for the sick (like chicken noodles soup in America). Pho, customarily, is a breakfast dish but it can be eaten at any time during the daỵ In Vietnam, people often cap theirs late night outings with a hot bowl of pho or rice-soup. Pho is always very easing to our soul, body, and stomach. I discuss Pho in this topic, is strictly Vietnamese beef noodle noodle soup, not its derivatives such as Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) or Pho Ap Chao (Pan Fried noodle soup), etc.
Pho has long existed in our contemporary literature and in our Vietnamese “psyche”. Pho could be compared relatively to other very unique Vietnamese innovations like the Dong-Son’s bronze drums, anchovy extract (nuoc mam), or the single string musical instrument (dan bau). Pho in our cuisine which just like our Vietnamese society, has faced many turbulent changes over time, especially, during this century, but still maintains its own unique characters. It doesn’t matter where the Vietnamese have scattered in the world, Pho-Shops often were one of the first commercial establishments to anchor our Vietnamese communitỵ We would go to pho-shop or restaurant to treat both our hunger and homesickness. Most Vietnamese understand that we might not be able to cure these problems but at least we could always count on Pho for temporary relief. It doesn’t matter where we at or how long we have been away from our homeland, just sat there in front of a steamy bowl of Pho and a glass of coffee with condensed milk, we would feel Vietnamese to the bone as an individual!
When I still lived in Saigon, my family seldom made Pho at home since there were so many popular restaurants or noodle houses selling delicious pho in their memụ There were also pho-shops, which offered nothing but only phọ We have learned to make pho since we arrived in America because it’s not always as convenient to travel miles for a bowl of phọ We have attempted countless times to make pho and have been quite meticulously recording and adjusting our recipe for phọ Making pho it’s not an exact science or art, we could never really be completely satisfied with the result but we would say, “it’s only acceptable”. It appears to us that it may be more difficult (perhaps even more economically advantage) to derive a universally satisfactory pho’s recipe that to obtain a Ph. D. degree as considering for our efforts of constantly searching for a better way to make phọ
It often takes us over 10 hours just to prepare a meal for phọ We started out with a couple hours of shopping for fresh ingredients at Asian or Vietnamese grocers in Chinatown. We’d prepare the broth overnight by simmering the beef-bones with charred onions and ginger. This is actually the most difficult process of making pho because extra pre-cautions must be taken to ensure a clear but honestly delicious broth (which means that the broth must have a natural sweetness which should not be drived from MSG but from the beef-bones and delicate balanced with salt, rock-sugar, spices, and herbs). It takes couple ađitional hours in the next day to prepare fresh herbs, refine the broth, and cooked brisket, meatballs, ripe, and tendon for final preparation and assemblỵ In America we are blessed with abundant beef bones and meats but not always with fresh herbs (Vietnamese basil, Mexican cilantro, chilies, bean sprouts, scallion, Chinese cilantro, limes, etc…) and rice-noodles for phọ We always have to adjust and juggle whichever herbs are available during different seasons of the year whenever we make phọ It is very satisfying when we offering a hot and delicious bowl of pho to our family and friends.
A good bowl of pho should be able to capture all of our basic senses. It must be steamy hot to the touch, the broth must be clear and pure like good Chardonnay or white wine, the unique-aromatic of pho must hit our olfactory nerves before our eyes could see it. It’s like a good piece of art; the hot clear broth must cover near to the rim of a ceramic bowl. Thick white firm, rice noodles must hug the fresh green cilantro and chopped onions. Thinly slices of red sirloin steak must be well positioned in accompany with pieces of meatballs, slices of beef tripe, cooked-briskets, and tendon. A sprinkle of black pepper sometimes could be added to enhance its aroma (as preferred by some). A good pho connoisseur should taste the pho-broth before adjusting its taste and flavor with ađitional condiments of lime wedges, fresh herbs, pepper, hoisin saucẹ Pho must be consumed while it’s still steamy hot. There is no perfect way to eat pho but it’s according to personal taste, preference, and experiences. I am always searching better way to make pho as I always search for my very own Vietnamese psychẹ
Pho is supposed to be originated from Hanoi but vast majority of good pho’s cooks emigrated into the South after 1954, where they established a new pho tradition outside of Hanoị Popular pho-shops in Hanoi currently are Pho Bat Ðan, Pho Thin, Pho Nguyen-Khuyen, Pho Thin, Pho Co-Cu, etc… The contenders for Pho in Saigon used to be Pho Pasteur, Pho Tau-Bay, Pho 54 (later migrated to the US), Pho Hien-Vuong, Pho Cong-Ly, Pho Tuong-Lai, etc… In the US, Pho 75 chains are very much dominating in the Northeast States while Pho 54, Pho 79, Pho Hoa, Pho Hoa-Viet, Pho Y, etc…are considered as Pho’s contenders in the West Coast. The vast majority of pho in overseas often is compromised of its freshness, which is the essential “ingredient” of Vietnamese cuisinẹ While most Pho shop in our homeland rarely ever lasted beyond 4-5 hours after we added the final ingredients into the broth. In overseas, pho’s broth could be kept for days at times as with other compliment ingredients.
I have returned to Vietnam a few times recently and spent a good chunk of my time to search for good phọ I, disappointedly, have found only a handful pho-shops which offering decent phọ The original Pho Pasteur in Saigon is still existed while most of its counterparts had become the casualty from the tide of change in 1975. Pho Van, Pho Bau Sen, and a couple other pho-shops are presently considered as contenders for Pho in Saigon (as recommended by local pho-connoisseurs). I received very poor reviews from various pho-connoisseurs that have recently visited Hanoị As I have indicated earlier, good pho’s broth should be honest, which meant that the sweetness of the broth should not be cheated and masqueraded by MSG; however, most pho-shops in current Hanoi would offer MSG as a special ađitivẹ It’s reflecting what damages communism has done to our Vietnamese culture, as the whole, good pho merely was one of the casualties from our national tragedỵ
I am still a long way from home but I still hope I would be able to return to our homeland in some day and help to revive good pho for all of our Vietnamese peoplẹ It’s such a travesty for us to work extra hard to preserve and refine our traditional culture while we are still living outside of our beloved countrỵ We don’t expect any more war to rampage Vietnam like it had been during most of the 20th centurỵ We are living in a new millennium. There is hope for rebirth and renewal whenever we face change in time, place, and spacẹ We still believe that good pho like our Vietnamese traditional culture will live on and flourish again as long as we are preserving its good seeds which are awaiting for the right time and environment to grow and flourish in the future. Will meet you for good pho in Vietnam in a near future!
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