“The history of Vietnam lies in this bow, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho was born, a combination of the rice noodles that predominated after a thousand years of Chinese occupation and the taste for beef the Vietnamese acquired under the French, who turned their cows away from plough and into bifteck and pot-au-feu. The name of their national soup is pronounce like this French word for fire, as Hung’s Uncle Chien explained to him long ago.
“We’re a clever people,” his uncle had said. “We took the best the occupiers had to offer and made it our own. Fish sauce is the key-in matters of soup and well beyond. Even romance, some people say.”
It was only with the painful partitioning of the country in 1954 that pho went south; the million who fled communism held the taste of home in their mouths, the recipe in their hearts, but their eyes grew big in the markets of Saigon and they began to adulterate the recipe with imported herbs and vegetables. The phos of Saigon had flourished brash with freedom and abundance while the North ate a poor man’s broth, plain and watered down, with chicken in place of beef as the Party ordered the closure of independent businesses like Hung’s and a string of government-owned cafeterias opened in their place.” (4-5)
i wondered a lot about this discrepancy when i was traipsing about the country when i was there. leave it to a writer from london (london, not london, ontario, as i assumed by the big maple leaf sticker that’s been slapped on the spine of this book) to school me. it was a smooth enough read, but i was reminded of the work that i still need to do. it’s just a distance thing, i’ve never been good at hearing “my” story as i should be experiencing it, ya dig? but i know it’s close to the truth, because i’m affected. like the tattoo.