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Enjoying Hanoi’s Pho (Noodle Soup)

10:46 | 11/03/2012

Famous Vietnamese writers such as Nguyen Cong Hoan, Thach Lam, and Bang Son have praised the Vietnamese national dish in their literary works. Nguyen Cong Hoan affirmed the 100 year history of pho in his autobiography, recalling a memory from 1913 when he occasionally had the chance to enjoy pho sold by a street vendor. Thach Lam said in his "Hanoi-36 Streets of the Old Quarter" that pho is a daily nosh of all Hanoians, especially public employees and workers, and, although it is available in many other places, it is at its best in Hanoi.

Pho is one of the most popular dishes in Hanoi, but there are many different theories about its origin. Some people say that pho is a Vietnamese adaptation of the French "pot-au-feu" (beef stew) while others think that it comes from Vietnam's neighbour, China, .However, it is probably most accurate to say that it comes from Vietnam's capital city of Hanoi.

Since its first appearance in the country, pho has been accepted and favoured by even the most discriminating of people. In the early days of the 20th century, pho was sold by street vendors who carried it to every corner of the city. Then famous pho restaurants opened in the 1910s, such as the Cat Tuong restaurant in Cau Go and Truong Ca restaurant in Hang Bac. At that time, there was only one kind of pho called "pho bo chin" (well-done beef soup), but people later created more kinds such as "pho bo tai (rare beef pho) and "pho ga (chicken pho).

Khanh, the owner of a pho restaurant in Trieu Viet Vuong Street, told me that he sells as many as 500 bowls of pho a day so he has to get up very early to prepare it.

"My pho business helps me support my family and even buy some houses and a car," he said enthusiastically. But when I asked him about how to make a good bowl of pho, he smiled and said that was his own secret.

Despite eating pho every morning, I did not know how to really "enjoy" a bowl of pho until I met Chris, an English teacher from New Zealand, whose first question when he met me at Noi Bai airport was, "Where can I have pho?". He was the one who taught me how to "lower my head down to the bowl and let the steaming scent cover it before starting to slurp with lips poised just inches above the bowl". When I asked him how he knew the pho culture in Vietnam so well, he told me that all his friends who had been to Vietnam advised him to try pho so he looked for information on the internet before going to Vietnam.

The millennial capital city is developing very fast with modern buildings, a modern lifestyle and the proliferation of foreign dishes. Hanoi’s cuisine is also changing and there are many restaurants serving fast-food from western countries. People now can even enjoy their favorite po in deluxe air-conditioned restaurants.

However, many Hanoians enjoy eating pho in a crowded restaurant where they have to wait a long time to be served because they think, if the restaurant is crowded, that means its pho is particularly delicious. It’s the taste that matters most.

Thanks to global integration, people can now enjoy pho all over the world. It has become an outstanding trademark of Vietnam promoting the country through thousands of pho restaurants worldwide.

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