Enjoying Hanoi noodle Soup
Today, “phở Hà Nội” (Hà Nội noodle soup) is not only a popular dish but also a national dish of Việt Nam. As a culinary ambassador, it promotes the city’s culture around the world.
Famous Vietnamese writers such as Nguyễn Công Hoan, Thạch Lam, and Băng Sơn have praised the Vietnamese national dish in their literary works. Nguyễn Công Hoan affirmed the 100 year history of phở in his autobiography, recalling a memory from 1913 when he occasionally had the chance to enjoy phở sold by a street vendor. Thạch Lam said in his “Hà Nội-36 Streets of the Old Quarter” that phở is a daily nosh of all Hanoians, especially public employees and workers, and, although it is available in many other places, it is at its best in Hà Nội.
Phở is one of the most popular dishes in Hà Nội, but there are many different theories about its origin. Some people say that pho is a Vietnamese adaptation of the French “pot-au-feu” (beef stew) while others think that it comes from Việt Nam’s neighbor, China. However, it is probably most accurate to say that it comes from Việt Nam’s capital city of Hà Nội.
Since its first appearance in the country, “Phở” has been accepted and favored by even the most discriminating of people. In the early days of the 20th century, phở was sold by street vendors who carried it to every corner of the city. Then famous phở restaurants opened in the 1910s, such as the Cát Tường restaurant in Cầu Gỗ and Trường Ca restaurant in Hàng Bạc. At that time, there was only one kind of phở called “phở bò chín” (well-done beef soup), but people later created more kinds such as “phở bò tái (rare beef phở) and “phở gà (chicken phở).
Khanh, the owner of a phở restaurant in Triệu Việt Vương Street, told me that he sells as many as 500 bowls of phở a day so he has to get up very early to prepare it.
“My phở business helps me support my family and even buy some houses and a car,” he said enthusiastically. But when I asked him about how to make a good bowl of phở, he smiled and said that was his own secret.
Despite eating phở every morning, I did not know how to really “enjoy” a bowl of phở until I met Chris, an English teacher from New Zealand, whose first question when he met me at Nội Bài airport was, “Where can I have phở?”. He was the one who taught me how to “lower my head down to the bowl and let the steaming scent cover it before starting to slurp with lips poised just inches above the bowl”. When I asked him how he knew the phở culture in Việt Nam so well, he told me that all his friends who had been to Việt Nam advised him to try phở so he looked for information on the internet before going to Việt Nam.
The millennial capital city is developing very fast with modern buildings, a modern lifestyle and the proliferation of foreign dishes. Hà Nội’s cuisine is also changing and there are many restaurants serving fast-food from western countries. People now can even enjoy their favorite phở in deluxe air-conditioned restaurants.
However, many Hanoians enjoy eating pho in a crowded restaurant where they have to wait a long time to be served because they think, if the restaurant is crowded, that means its phở is particularly delicious. It’s the taste that matters most.
Thanks to global integration, people can now enjoy phở all over the world. It has become an outstanding trademark of Việt Nam promoting the country through thousands of phở restaurants worldwide.