The History of Pho in 10 Facts - The Comprehensive Minds

The History of Pho in 10 Facts


THE HISTORY OF PHO IN 10 FACTS


During the Vietnam War—or the American War, as it’s sometimes known in Vietnam—Pho Binh was a popular place to grab a hot bowl of traditional pho bo or beef pho. Today we discuss the history of "pho" in 10 facts.


THE HISTORY OF PHO


THE TET OFFENSIVE WAS PARTIALLY PLANNED AT A PHO RESTAURANT


The restaurant was just a few hundred feet down the road from the U.S. Military Police headquarters in what was then Saigon, and U.S. soldiers were known to sometimes eat there. What those soldiers didn’t know was that one of the servers ladling out their beef noodle soup was Ngo Toai, a leader of the Vietnamese resistance. 


Toai had established the floor above the restaurant like a secret meeting place for the city's Viet Cong. The Tet Offensive, one of the largest and most important military campaigns of the war, was actually, in part, planned there in 1968—all while U.S. soldiers were downstairs slurping their noodles, none the wiser.  


Also Read: 13 Unusual Historical Heists


THE NAME PHO' MIGHT HAVE FRENCH ORIGIN


Pho is a delicious dish, but it also tells us a lot about the history of Vietnam, and about how cultures collide. Case in point: The name pho might have French origins. Feu, spelled F-E-U, is the French word for fire, and pot-au-feu is the name of a rustic beef stew in French cuisine. 


Some people argue that the similarity of pho and feu shows that the Vietnamese soup was directly inspired by the French. It’s easy to see why they’d draw that conclusion. 


France colonized Vietnam from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, and it had a big impact on Vietnamese cuisine, from the baguettes used for banh mi to the Vietnamese names for ingredients the French introduced to the country. Potatoes, for example, are known as khoai tây (kwai tae) in Vietnam, which can be translated as “Western yam.” 



OR “pho” COULD COME FROM CANTONESE. IT'S KIND OF COMPLICATED


Not everyone is convinced that pho comes from the French, though. Before pho, a noodle soup known as xao trâu, made with slices of water buffalo meat, was already popular in Vietnam, according to an essay by Dung Quang Trinh. 


Because so many of the street vendors selling the soup were Chinese, a Vietnamese-Cantonese name for the dish, ngưu nhục phấn, or “beef with rice noodles,” was often used. Trinh suggests that, over time, that name may have been shortened to phấn a or phốn ơ, and finally settled into one word, phở.

 

One reason why it wouldn’t go by phấn? It might sound a little too much like phấn, which means poop. Not a very appealing thing to be yelling out to attract customers. So while Chinese and French culture might have both helped influence pho, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the word came from. 



PHO IS A MELTING POT, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. 


Before French colonization, beef was not very common in Vietnamese food. It was more common to have cattle work the fields than to slaughter them for dinner. When the French arrived, they brought with them their love of beef, and it became a lot more widely available. 


Using the bones that were leftover from beef production was a simple and economical way to infuse flavor into a dish. The addition of rice noodles and aromatics like onion, ginger, star anise, and cardamom helps transform the simple beef broth into a complex and comforting meal. 



IT’S A NORTHERN/SOUTHERN THING. 


The early pho that originated in Northern Vietnam is called pho bac, and for some pho purists, it’s still the gold standard. It consists of rice noodles, a clear broth made from beef and spices, and some thinly sliced beef on top. 


Pho Nam, or southern-style pho, didn’t appear until South Vietnam was split from North Vietnam in 1954. Southern Vietnamese cooks are generally a lot more liberal with their garnishes and condiments, which can include Thai basil, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts, chili peppers, fish sauce, and hoisin. 


THE HISTORY OF PHO dish


Also Read: 10 Strange Stories of Historical Body Parts


PHO GA CAME AROUND LATER 


Perhaps the biggest change South Vietnam brought to pho was the introduction of pho ga or chicken pho. There are still probably people who will tell you that pho bo is the only authentic version of the dish, but today, regional variations on pho are embraced throughout Vietnam, including duck pho, grilled liver pho, and even red wine pho. 



VENDORS ONCE SOLD SECRET PHO 


In the 1950s, The Communist Party took over many businesses in Vietnam, including pho stalls. At the time, the Soviet Union was sending potato and wheat flour to Vietnam, and government authorities decreed that all noodles had to be made with one of these flours—rice flour was off-limits. 


The food writer Andrea Nguyen tells the story of frustrated pho fans and the cooks who catered to them. Some stalls apparently developed a system where they presented the potato noodles upfront to avoid unwanted attention from the authorities but circulated instructions to customers on how to order from their secret stash of rice noodles.  



WAR CHANGED PHO. 


During the war with The United States, meat was scarce, so pho shops in Vietnam began serving up vegetarian pho made with MSG-seasoned broth. It was dubbed phở không người lái, or “pho without a pilot,” a reference to the unmanned reconnaissance drones used by the U.S. Air Force. 



THE END OF THE WAR WAS A NEW BEGINNING FOR PHO 


Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country. When they settled in countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States, their career options were often limited. 


Opening a restaurant required fewer credentials than other industries did, so it became a common path for many Vietnamese immigrants who needed to make a living. The first pho shops that opened in the so-called Little Saigon communities of places like California mainly catered to other immigrants in the area. 


The dish wouldn’t really take off with America’s broader dining public until the end of the 20th century when American tourists began visiting Vietnam in greater numbers. Then-president Bill Clinton expedited the rise of the dish in the West when he ordered a bowl of chicken pho on a trip to Vietnam in 2000. 


Today, pho is a household name in America, even if many Americans still can’t pronounce that name right. 



PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD ARE LOVIN’ IT. 


Pho is popular around the world. Even McDonald’s has its own take on the recipe. Last year, Micky D’s added a pho burger to the menu of its restaurants in Vietnam. 


The item consists of two beef patties, a McMuffin-style egg, and herbs like cilantro. The beefy condiment that comes with the burger is supposedly pho broth that’s been reduced down to a thick sauce. 


So These are 10 facts about a truly delicious, international dish. If you haven’t tried pho, what’re you doing! Go order yourself a bowl right now, and let us know what you think. If you’re a bonafide pho fan, let us know in the comment how you like to eat your bowl of steaming goodness. 


Article Source: Mental Floss

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