The Western Sun

Pho is not the most delicious Vietnamese food

Tran Duc Anh Son

Tran Duc Anh Son

Quang Tran, Contributing Writer

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“Oh, you are Vietnamese? What is your favorite Vietnamese food?”. Mattia, my classmate asked me when I revealed him that I’m a pure Vietnamese. “It’s Bún bò Huế”, I said without an expectation that he would know what is the word that just came out of my mouth. “Hell yeah, I love that one as well. That one, not Pho.” A happy feeling flew in my soul when I heard that. I always receive questions and responses like: how often do you eat Pho? Pho is the only thing I know about Vietnamese cuisine is Pho, …, and that irritates me all the time. To be honest, I had my first bowl of Pho three years ago, when I made my first step in America.

I was born and grew up in Hue city, the old capital of Vietnam, located at the centre of my country, where is famous for the vestiges of the last feudal dynasty, the Huong river, and especially, the Bún bò Huế, essence of Vietnamese cuisine. Believe me, the only thing that makes Pho more popular than Bún bò Huế in America is its simple name. Go back to the history of Pho, it was originated in the North of Vietnam, where insipidity the specific trait of the taste of people up there. Northerners believe that insipid food is healthier. People from the central of Vietnam think differently. They enjoy food with more savoury taste, especially the passion they have for chilly. A visual example is you can obviously see at the restaurant, people always add the Sriracha and hoisin sauce into a Pho bowl to compensate for the lack of taste of it. We don’t do it while eating Bún bò Huế. The only thing that diner need to add is a little bit of lemon juice. Like its complicated name, Bún bò Huế has a much more complicated recipe alongside with the much more charming flavor.

To people in Hue city, none of us call the bowl they eat “Bún bò Huế”. Only non-Hue people, or Hue people who live far from their hometown call the dish that way, to emphasize that the bowl they are eating is cooked in a Hue way, to distinguish with another bowl that is not cooked by Hue people or Hue recipe. A bowl of “Bún bò Huế” in our time includes many different ingredients, but in the past, there were only beef, which is “bò” in Vietnamese, and pork-pie. Aunt Roi, a woman who have been selling “Bún bò Huế” in Hue for forty years explained: The full name of the dish is “Bún bò giò heo” – Beef and pork-pie vermicelli. The reason beef is prioritized in the name because the broth stewed from the beef is always more precious and delicious than from pork.

The soul of a bowl of “Bún bò Huế” is the broth. A pot of broth cooked from beef bones. A pot used for 100 bowls will need 22 pound of beef bones. The bones are washed then boiled with boiled water first, lately will be stewed with simmering fire. The flavor of the dish is decided using a special ingredient from our hometown called “ruốc”, which is a fermented shrimp paste, and lemon grass. We put lemon grass into the broth pot 30 minutes before eating. For the “ruốc”, we dissolve it in chilly water to filter the dregs, boil it then wait until it gets cool, and finally take out the pure water on the top to cook the broth. Beef and pork-pie will but cut and cook within the broth pot. A perfect bowl of “Bún bò Huế” will be eaten with herbs, usually included salad and bean sprout. “Bún bò Huế” is sold by many vendors or restaurant across the city. A vendor of “Bún bò Huế” is the easiest thing you can find when you travel to my city. I have tried many different restaurants that sell “Bún bò Huế” in California, but none of those make the real “Bún bò Huế” with the original flavor. The only joint that makes the most similar flavor to our treasure is Cho Dong Ba, located at 9262 Bolsa Avenue. To experience the real flavor, I suggest you travel to Vietnam and have a hot bowl in a cold and rainy day of Hue.

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Pho is not the most delicious Vietnamese food