I went out to lunch with a friend today, to a Vietnamese restaurant that specializes in various types of Phở. I enjoy Vietnamese food so it was a special treat for me.
Vietnamese food has come to Canada with the refuges of the Viet Nam war. Most of these people brought little in the way of material goods, but a great deal in the way of work ethic, family values, cultural traditions, and cuisine. We are richer for their presence here.
I think the reason Vietnamese food is so popular in North America is that it incorporates many flavours with which we are already familiar, but presents them to us in a different way. This is certainly true of phở.
Phở begins as a savoury broth flavoured with beef, veal bones, bay leaf, onion, salt and pepper, similar to broths in almost every other culture. Phở is made unique through the addition of fish sauce and by the fact that the meat in the soup is added raw, immediately before service. The meat cooks in the hot broth and diners then further season the soup with their choice of mung bean sprouts, Thai basil, chilies, and lime, all of which are served separate from the soup, as a side dish.
Phở is of relatively recent origin. A fusion of French and Vietnamese cooking, it originated in North Vietnam during the 1920’s. It gradually spread throughout the country, with each region adapting the recipe to include local ingredients and seasonings. In these adaptations, the evolution of phở is akin to that of older, more traditional peasant foods in this and almost every other culture.
Isn’t it wonderful that we have the opportunity to experience dishes like phở so close to our homes? Because we are a nation of immigrants, the opportunity to experience other cultures through their foods is always close at hand. Treat every day as an adventure: Look for a new dish, try a new restaurant, discover another culinary tradition.