Updated 07-24-19. LovingPho reader Foong asks:
Hi, I noticed that some road names in Hanoi start with the word Pho. This pho is different from the noodles pho right? How is it pronounced? And does it mean road or street? Thanks!
This is a case of lost in translation, Vietnamese edition. Or more accurately, lost of accent marks in translation.
We know the French helped alphabetized Vietnamese written language during colonial times. Today, the soup noodle dish Phở is well-know, but has become only as pho to many Westerners. The fact is, in Vietnamese language there are many "phos" (pho with the anglicized plural s) such as these below. Each has some meaning by itself or when combined with another word:
- phố, phổ, phô, phơ, phờ, phở, phó
As you can see, phở is only one of the phos.
So Foong, great question! And you are absolutely correct!
It hasn't been a confusion up until now. In the past, when Westerners knew less about Vietnamese food, or Vietnam in general, "phở" the food without accent marks has been the only version of "pho" Westerners knew.
In recent years as more people visit Hanoi and learn more about North Vietnam or North Vietnamese words and expressions, "phố" and other versions of "pho" started showing up. So in North Vietnam, the word reader Foong was referring to is phố. It is definitely not phở.
Phố is pronounced “foh” with an up trailing accent. Yes, it is the same foh that many non-Viet people claim as pronunciation of phở. Foh is not the pronunciation of pho the noodle dish. That’s the reason I’ve been advocating correct pronunciation of pho all along. Among other reasons, it's to avoid confusions such as this. 😉
Below are pronunciation of Phở and Phố.
Phố means street, district, neighborhood or can also mean house or apartment. A common phrase we still hear today is “Hà Nội xưa có ba mươi sáu phố phường,” which translates to “Old Hanoi had thirty six districts (or neighborhoods).” For many Vietnamese, and especially for me even though I’ve never been to Hanoi, this phrase gives a warm feeling of home, of the familiar, of being Vietnamese.
For more information, check out the post Pho Pronunciation: You Can Say It, Pronounce Pho, Say: Phở…
Hope this clarifies it for many people out there. I'm sure you'll enjoy Hanoi even more when visiting now, trying to look for those 36 phố phường. I'm sure many of these areas have great phở that you can eat.
All feedback are welcome.