Vietnamese food has garnered quite a bit of clout lately.
The foremost front-runner of the “I’m ready to talk to you about your own food” equivalence for Vietnamese food is pho.
Honestly, is there anyone else?
The culprit at hand embodies so much about the country that it’s hard to discern a secondary dish as ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine as “fo.”
Gritty, complex, full of light and heaviness. Scrappy and resourceful. One that challenges forgone conclusions.
I could be talking about pho; I could also be talking about Vietnamese people in a loose general sense.
Pho is so quintessentially Vietnamese, it’s almost offensively so.
The soup stems from a means of resourcefully using ingredients in a way to soak up every last useful morsel.
We didn’t eat cows regularly, that’s fucking expensive. However with French colonization and influence, Viet people began utilizing ingredients in form-factors otherwise unknown to us.
Thus the origin of pho, using farming cattle for meals when they were no longer serviceable and using every single part of the animal, no waste. We’re too poor to do that.
What hasn’t garnered nearly as much limelight in the here-and-gone food fads is pho’s littler brother: pho ga, chicken pho.
Pho ga is a dish that might even surpass the OG form-factor in terms of utility and versatility.
The broth is light and flavorful. As clean as a traditional chicken soup stock but packs much more umami (cheap buzzword) from the use of fish sauce and hours of simmering a whole chicken.
Simultaneously refreshing and satisfying, pho ga toes that line almost expertly. I honestly don’t remember if I’ve ever had a more “wow, this is chicken” feeling from another dish. It stands atop the pure “bok bok” echelon alongside Hainanese chicken.
The dish garners almost suspicious levels of simplicity. It’s chicken. Chicken, noodles, and whatever accoutrements you personally choose to add — and honestly that’s enough.
The deep soulful flavor comes from the time that is put into it. Simmering chicken into a stock over hours and meticulously skimming impurities from the bones on top.
No you’re not going to be full if you’re craving a burger, that’s not the point of this dish.
Pho ga screams “a mother’s love.” When it’s cold out and I want a dish that offsets the chill, I grab a can of Campbell’s chicken soup- and fucking chuck that away. Pho does what that dish can and so much more.
I admit I have a vested interest the notoriety of the dish but trust me- I absolutely hated Vietnamese food growing up. Since then, I’ve grown to appreciate the quality the food has to offer but still retain vague Western criticism, though this one, I can unequivocally vouch for.