One of the first things people say to me when I tell them I’m Vietnamese, besides the fact that they know a lot of people with the same last name as me, is that they have had pho before.
All I can do is smile and say, untruthfully, that yeah, pho is great. Have you ever had the beef one?
I can’t tell you why I don’t like pho as much as my Asian friends and other Vietnamese people. I had always preferred more dry foods growing up; anything soup-based was not a meal I enjoyed eating.
When I have told people in the past that I don’t like pho, I always get a look. Those people make me feel as if I somehow devalue my own culture because I don’t enjoy the soup. Don’t I eat it every night? It must be so much better than going out to the Asian-fusion place down the road. I have had other people directly tell me they’re surprised I don’t like pho and look almost disappointed that this token food is not my first choice.
In case you didn’t know, there is more to Vietnamese cuisine than pho. I thoroughly enjoy other Vietnamese cuisines as well. In fact, when going out to Vietnamese restaurants with friends, I am usually the odd bowl out. No steaming bowl of pho in front of my plate, please.
Load up my plate with fried rice, with spring rolls holding juicy shrimp and a generous portion of peanut sauce on the side. My favorite Vietnamese cuisine of all is bánh xèo, a Vietnamese style crepe that can be filled with any kind of meat and a variety of vegetables. I prefer the ones that have shrimp in them.
When I think of my childhood, I think of cơm (rice) in a variety of dishes, not pho. Cơm was a base for all the Vietnamese specific vegetables, meats and more that my mom would make for me.
Being the Vietnamese Student Association’s fundraising chair has made me aware of how much pho defines the Vietnamese. One of my goals as fundraising chair is to introduce other Vietnamese foods that are not as popular, but are arguably just as good.
In fact, the Vietnamese Student Association recently had a fundraiser in which banh mi (a Vietnamese style sandwich) and bubble tea were sold. I wanted to introduce a Vietnamese dessert called chè thái to the menu as well, but I was hesitant on the quantities of ingredients I should buy to make the dessert. Should I go big or go home? Would people be turned off by the ingredients? Would it be a big flop? If it was, the organization would lose money. But on the flip side, people might be willing to try it.
The latter happened and it was amazing to see the positive response. Students who had never had chè thái before were saying how much they liked the dessert after taking the first bite. This kind of social and money-making experiment gave me hope that I could continue to introduce different Vietnamese foods that people may not have otherwise known before.
If you’re ever at a Vietnamese restaurant, look beyond the pho options and try something else on the menu. There are a variety of other soups beyond pho, such as bún bò huế, a Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli and beef. Cơm tấm, or broken rice, is another personal favorite Vietnamese dish of mine.
Delve more into the cuisines of a culture. Food is the best topic of conversation and there is a rich food history for all cultures beyond what is most popular and well-known.
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.