As I walked along the streets of Hanoi, I couldn’t help but think, “They sure like their soup here.” Everywhere I looked, street side vendors had set up shop alongside bubbling pots of broth and noodles. Their obliging customers sat on knee-high plastic chairs, chopsticks in hand, slurping up hot deliciousness topped with a smattering of fresh basil, mint, and a squeeze of lime.
Pho (pronounced fuh, not foe) is a traditional noodle soup in Vietnam. There are more pho restaurants in Vietnam than cornfields in Iowa. Seriously. Fancy pho restaurants, simple storefront mom-and-pop pho shops, rustic roadside pho pots steaming with noodles and chicken (pho ga) or strips of beef (pho bo).
Besides an amazing breakfast, lunch, or late-night snack, pho gives you insight into the way of life in Vietnam. You can’t gulp down a bowl of soup or eat it on the go. This is no fast food, I’m-in-a-hurry kind of food. Pho has to be eaten sitting down, preferably with a friend or family member, spoonful by steaming spoonful.
And that’s the flavor of life in many pockets of Vietnam, a less hurried kind of feel (even if traffic tells a different story). Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake late at night, for instance, and you’ll see grandparents and grandkids enjoying ice cream cones or totally-in-love couples holding hands, entire families laughing, picnicking and forgetting the day of work behind them. Everywhere you see people making space for real living.
Which is a good reminder to me, and to all of us really, to slow down every once in while. Sometimes life, like a bowl of steaming pho, is meant to be enjoyed.
Want some authentic pho recipes to enjoy with your own family and friends? Check out well-known author and cook Andrea Nguyen blog and The Pho Cookbook.