The Vietnamese food staple Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is loved by foodies all over the world. At its most simplistic, pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with beef, some essential herbs, and rice noodles. But over the years, especially as it began to gain popularity in the west, pho’s ingredients began to become more varied. But, despite what’s in the bowl, people everywhere are dying to take a sip of this tasty main dish. This lovely soup has a deep, rich history that’s even more interesting than the diversity of its ingredients.
Even though the birthplace of Pho is a bit murky according to historians and foodies alike, the consensus is that the dish originated in the Nam Dinh/Hanoi region in Northern Vietnam in the late 19th century. As the French took over Vietnam and the country was split into North and South Vietnam, the popularity of the dish began to spread. The two regions of Vietnam began to create two distinctly different versions of pho. Northern style pho is known to be rather simplistic. The noodle soup only has a couple slices of meat and a dash of herbs. Southern style pho, on the other hand, is known to be more of a complicated dish to make. A typical bowl of southern style pho has over a dozen ingredients including been sprouts and scallions.
Pho as a dish is thought to be based around the French food “pot at feu” or French beef stew. “Pho” is a Vietnamese reiteration of the French word “feu” meaning fire. “Pot at feu” in itself means pot on fire, which connects to the long amount of time that it often takes to make the broth for the soup. There are many similarities between the French dish and its Vietnamese counterpart, one of them being the ginger and onions that are used to flavor the broth.
Pho’s journey to the United States dates back to the late 1970s. After the Vietnam War, refugees came to the nation looking for a better life and an escape from the Communist-ruled country. As the Vietnamese people settled down in the U.S. and began to look for work, Pho restaurants began to spring up all over America. These shops had two opportunities at hand. They were providing a taste of home for those displaced from Vietnam, and gathering new fans as Americans discovered this new found dish.
Today, there are over eight thousand Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Vietnamese restaurants vary from mom and pop food carts to nationwide chains. Pho has exploded in popularity and has birthed many different reiterations of the Vietnamese noodle dish from all over the world. Most of today’s restaurants serve the Southern style of pho. Back when pho was first introduced to the United States, people used to have to travel out to a Vietnamese neighborhood in order to snag a bowl of pho. But, in today’s age, you’re only a Google search from exploring your own backyard and experiencing the Vietnamese culture in a bowl. Pho represents a legacy of Vietnamese food and culture that’s growing and building each day.
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