If you want to learn about Vietnamese pho, Vietnamese cuisine and maybe to try your hand at authentic Vietnamese recipes, the best person to turn to is none other than Andrea Nguyen. She is the foremost authority on Vietnamese culinary traditions in the United States.
Andrea Nguyen’s claim to this veritable status in the food world is the fact that her bestselling cookbook Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors is the first comprehensive cookbook in the English language that is focused on Vietnamese cuisine. The book contains 175 Vietnamese recipes, including those for making the much beloved Vietnamese pho.
Aside from that, Ms. Nguyen is also a celebrity chef, a teacher, a writer, and a host for Epicurious TV. In addition, Ms. Nguyen has a huge presence on the Internet through her website and blog, Viet World Kitchen.
Andrea Nguyen’s Journey in Vietnamese Cuisine
Andrea Nguyen’s story is almost typical to any child of Vietnamese refugees in the United States. She was born in Vietnam but was forced to flee to the United States with her family in 1975, when she was only seven years old. In an interview with Courtenay Beinhorn Dunk in the blog SpiceLines, Ms. Nguyen revealed that her family had arrived in the United States with only family photos, jewelry and their Vietnamese recipes in their possession. Ms. Nguyen eventually inherited her mother’s cookbook.
Although she grew up learning traditional techniques in Vietnamese cooking from her mother’s kitchen, Ms. Nguyen did not really study to become a chef until much, much later in her life. Her parents had encouraged her to be practical, and so she graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in banking.
It did not stop her from pursuing a career in the food world. After a year of working in restaurants, Ms. Nguyen’s father sent her to cooking school. A stint as a university administrator while writing restaurant reviews led her to writing for Saveur magazine. This eventually led to the creation of her blog and the publication of her famous cookbook.
Vietnamese Pho, As Interpreted by Andrea Nguyen
The SpiceLines interview also featured an interesting take on the pho from Ms. Nguyen’s point of view:
“Pho developed in the north during the 1800’s after Vietnam was colonized by the French. When cows were slaughtered for beef, the local people picked up the parts that the French didn’t want to use. So in the beginning it was a soup, made of beef bones and tough, stewy type cuts, flavored with fish sauce, and with star anise and cinnamon, which are grown in the north. It had small flat rice noodles which likely came from Southern China, and charred onion and ginger which are uniquely Vietnamese.
“In 1954 when northern Vietnamese families migrated south, southern Vietnamese started enjoying the soup. The bowls got bigger, because everything is bigger and better in the South, and they added bean sprouts and herbs like Thai basil and offered hoisin sauce and chile sauce as accompaniments.
“These days, pho bo can be made with fancier cuts of meat like eye of round and even filet mignon, but you should start with a broth made from knuckle and leg bones with marrow. Some restaurants also serve pho ga, which is made from chicken and is delicately flavored with coriander seeds and cilantro.”
Andrea Nguyen’s blog is indeed a good website to learn the basics of pho, and of Vietnamese cuisine in general. She also holds classes for a limited number of people, which she lists on her website. Finally, head on over to read her take on the evolution of Pho.