The Tale Of Vietnamese Pho

Needless to say, we’re into food over here. And without a doubt, one of the most fascinating things about different foods is the history invariably tied to them. Influenced by time, geography, culture, preferences, and even politics, you can learn a lot about a food, and the world, by going back to the beginning.

That beginning for Vietnamese pho was in the late-1800s in Northern Vietnam an area called the Nam Dinh/Hanoi region, right around the time French colonization of Vietnam began. It is believed that both the Chinese and French-influenced the dish, taking rice noodles and spices from Chinese cuisine, and the popularity of eating red meat from the French. Before the French colonized Vietnam, cattle were only used in the fields to harvest rice and grain. Once they arrived, those cattle started appearing in stews and soups. It is believed that the very word “pho” in fact comes from “pot au feu”, a French beef stew of sorts.

Then In 1954, The Geneva Accords divided North Vietnam from South Vietnam along the 17th parallel. And just as the country was split in half, so too was their approach to Pho. The North maintained a traditional, simpler variation with fewer cuts of meat, less ginger, and only lime and green chilies as a garnish. The southern variation became more complex due to the richer agricultural setting in the south, and more closely resembles the Vietnamese pho that is typically recognized today. Typically involving over a dozen ingredients, the southern variation on Vietnamese pho began using bean sprouts, fresh basil, Chinese rock sugar, and a seemingly endless list of meat and vegetable ingredients.

1975 sees the end of the Vietnam War, and with it, a surge of Vietnamese refugees to the United States. They brought hopes of a better life, families, traditions, and – you guessed it – pho. These days, pho restaurants dot the United States and the world over, each with their own unique take on this fascinating, delicious, beloved dish.