“Is it pronounced ‘faux’ or ‘fuh’?” he asks.
“It’s pronounced ‘fuhh’ with an emphasis on the end of the word,” she responds.
“You’ve got to be phở-king kidding me, ha-ha… get it?” he jokes.
She shakes her head as she walks away.
Pronounced “f-uhhh?” like it’s a question. This quintessential Vietnamese dish is as close to the all-American chicken noodle soup as “homey” could get – the ultimate comfort dish, if you will. One slurp of this multi-dimensional flavored soup will wash over you like the comforting arms of your loving mother. With specialty phở restaurants popping up in almost every part of California, the popularity of phở has grown exponentially over the years. And like chicken noodle soup, phở requires a substantial amount of preparation, but quite a lot more patience. With a bowl of phở costing around $6-$7 on average per bowl, you could hardly imagine the length of time and effort it takes to create at a restaurant, let alone when you make everything from scratch at home.
Growing up, I would watch my mother spend endless hours in the kitchen; she prepared a myriad of dishes from the traditional phở to the hearty bún riêu (crab and tomato noodle soup), to my favorite dish of all time: cá kho tộ - a wonderfully aromatic dish consisting of caramelized fish prepared in a clay pot. I loved watching my mother cook in the kitchen – it was like she belonged in the there; it was where she felt the most relaxed. Watching my mother cook was like watching a painter paint – it was an art form; she moved and cooked with such grace. My favorite dish to watch her cook was, of course, phở. Phở, typically a beef noodle soup, is dish comprised of three things: the broth, the noodles, and the meat. It may sound simple, but this dish has lengthy cook time that is well worth the wait.
Once I turned seven, I began helping my mother out in the kitchen; my favorite part to help her out with when making phở was roasting the onions and ginger. Once combined in the water with the marrow-rich beef bones, star anise, and cloves, the aroma that arose was a heavenly scent that could put anyone on cloud nine. It was a broth that was rich in depth of flavor and had the perfect balance of sweet and savory. But combining the ingredients into one pot was just beginning of the process. For an authentic phở broth, you must simmer it for at least 3-6 hours; it required a hawk-eye watching it to ensure that it turned out right.
The wait was always my least favorite part of the process – and the older I got, the less patience I had for it. I began to wonder why my mother would slave over the stove for hours when we could just go down the street to the local phở restaurant to buy a bowl in less than ten minutes. “Wouldn’t have more time to do other things?” I often wondered. As I entered middle school, long gone were the days of me spending hours in the kitchen with my mother. I was more interested in the latest music videos and album releases that how many more hours the phở needed to simmer.
My father saw the change and distance that had occurred with me and pulled harder for me to help my mother more. Moving to America from Vietnam, my parents worked hard to instill that family comes first; and that it was important to keep our traditions alive. And, looking back, it was a struggle for me to understand why my father had always pushed for me – often saying that it was my role as a daughter to help out – to be in the kitchen with my mother when my little brother was always allowed to spend his free time catching Pokémon.
“Christina from English class doesn’t have to help her mother cook dinner,” I whined in our native tongue.
“Tck, tck,” my mother would click her tongue at me as a sign to hush.
The more my parents pulled, the more I pushed. Entering high school, I eventually resented their pull. I didn’t want to spend my weekends at Vietnamese school anymore, and I didn’t want to spend countless hours helping my