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The History and Evolution of Pho: A Hundred Years' Journey

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Jens
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 Jens
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Is "Pho" not the name of the used noodles in this food-style.....

The original "Pho" noodles are different like other rice noodles, right.

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Cuong Huynh
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Hi Jens: Pho is the name of this soup noodle dish, and also the name of the noodle style as well. In fact the complete name of the rice noodle itself is "bánh phở" which you can read more about in this article Banh Pho (Bánh Phở) – It’s All About the Square Noodles.

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Johnny
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Interesting ariticle and facts.
If I am not mistaken by Vietnamese history, the majority of the Northern immigrants that escape South due to the Vietnamese nationalists' persecutions as being traitors were among the well to do population.
Beef is something that only well to do people can afford at the time. Why do you think that the French is the only one who wanted to slaughter cows for food, when cows are the "work horse" so to speak for majority of the population then. Hanoi populations are the polititians, the traders, and the ruling class. Hence, they used to eat Pho as a treat at the time. When the Northerns came south bound and had to start again from scratch, Pho was re-created to firstly appease the sense of home for these people and secondly a way to make a living. Take a look at Saigon now or before it became Uncle Ho's city, and you will understand why. Pho has always been a type of food that only well to do or upper class people in vietnam can afford. The cost of a bowl of Pho before 1975 can easily equated to lunch and dinner for a typical family in Vietnam as the time. Entrepreneur is always a great trademark for all Vietnamese here in the states or at home in Vietnam.

The Southerners are not that crazy over Pho now or ever, because it is not within the range of theirs taste buds. Nevertheless, there are a few that would have a try at Pho. "Common People Food" is a relative term, depend on how you look at it. Common to the Northerners in the south would be more fitting. The differences between North and South Pho stock preparation are most likely due to the Entrepreneurism.

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Cuong Huynh
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Thanks for your input and comments Johnny. Northerners had pho, and the Southerners had hủ tiếu. That is, until they brought it to the South, then there were more choices for the South, but Northerners (and therefore pho itself) came to Saigon mostly. As a result, Southerners outside of Saigon did not get much exposure to pho itself. And you are right, many Southerners do not prefer pho over hu tieu, they prefer their hu tieu. I love hu tieu myself. It is a beautiful dish; there's something beautiful about such simple soup noodle in look and preparation (which use pork and/or seafoods.) If we Viet don't have pho, I would eat either hu tieu or the more spicy Bun Bo Hue any day.

With respect to the rich and the well-to-dos and the educated who emigrated to the South with pho, I would say that beef would not have been a staple food ingredients in Vietnam anyway before Western influence came into the country (I will have to check this fact so please do not hold me to this 100%, but I'll go ahead and make this point now). Having money is one thing, but tradition would not have beef as part of a Viet's daily diet. Of course for the well-to-do, beef, venison, snake or any other "exotic" meats can be had for a price and they can afford them. That's why they are called the affluence. But one thing for sure, the Viet affluence can definitely afford Western/French influence such as western culinary (and beef as an ingredient,) ballroom dancing, music, western clothing, and many other "foreign" things brought into the country just because by definition, the affluence and the educated had a business to know, to learn and to enjoy such things.

With respect to "common people food," I would say that one can find a version of pho in Saigon, then and now, that will fit any budget. And by "common" here I meant "poor" or "working people," not "mass popular" although sometime the two can be the same 😉 In any case I do not disagree with you, just offering my own take in response to your excellent and thoughtful comments.

And don't start me on what you call "Entrepreneurism." I love and admire a good entrepreneur (because I am one) but in my opinion, some just go too far and mess up a good thing like pho.

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Ly-Huong
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I surfed to your site while looking up pho origins. I'm looking forward to reading all the amazing content. I appreciate the summary you gave of what Viet American chefs think to be true and I want to offer a different geneaology for pho. Please check it out: http://realfoodrealpho.blogspot.com/2013/04/real-food-real-pho.html

And if you ever want to cruise down to San Diego and try authentic thit tai, let me know and I will email you the names of the parishes that sell it.

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Cuong Huynh
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@Ly-Huong: Thanks for sharing the interesting article. The topic of pho in Vietnam and in America is a very complex one, with multitudes of viewpoints offered my many experts, so-called or real. I think we'll have many theories for continued discussion for a long time to come, and I do not think we'll have a resolution any time soon. The most important thing, for me anyway, is to not knowingly or unknowingly misinform, and to make sure what we do and say is honest and sincere based on our own knowledge and experience. That's the respect that pho deserves and it's a goal of LovingPho.com. It's hard enough to deal with the many facets of pho, it's even tougher to correct thing that are not quite correct especially on the Internet.

I wish I have enough fundings and time to do a complete research on the subject matter. The way I see it, like many other things in this world, the longer we let pho go undocumented, the higher risk that we will lose what we had. We as a people have this amazing national dish, yet we do not attempt to document it, protect it, nurture it, and promote it the way it should be.

On another note, I do live in San Diego, so thanks for the tip about the parishes. But what is the point of "authentic thit tai", and why are parishes selling "authentic thit tai"? In the context of pho, thit tai is whatever lean beef (at various quality levels and cuts that one cares to pay for) that you prepare raw to be enjoyed in beef pho. That's all it is, right? Am I missing something? Please do explain.

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Van
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I was wondering if these were real facts. I'm not saying that they're lies, but I want to use this article as one of my sources for a research paper and don't want to be penalized for having invalid statements.

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Cuong Huynh
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Hi Van: Thanks for considering this article as a source of your research. As in any good research work, you should always practice due diligence in your independent research and fact checking.

This is a subject matter that is dear to my heart, and clearly historical documentation is very much lacking. A complete research must include visits to Nam Dinh in North Vietnam, and that has not happened yet. I have myself spent many hours in my own research, but I will admit that there are many more questions and clarifications that I'd still like to pursue, personal resources permitting.

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