In my “Blog Manifesto,” I wrote about what people on death row choose as their last meal. I know what mine would be. It would be a bowl of Pho.
Pho is my ultimate comfort food. I had my first bowl when I was 21 and I have had many, many bowls since. I’m very lucky because my best friend is Vietnamese, and her mom is an excellent Pho maker. Her mom jokes about the fact that I am an “Asian Baby” because I find such joy and happiness in Asian cooking. And, of all Asian dishes, nothing makes me happier than a bowl of pho.
At one point I had thought about having Kathy’s mom teach me her secrets, but I never was able to find a good time. When I first started eating Pho, I did look into recipes. It usually entails a rich broth made of ox tails, vegetables, and spices like anise and cinnamon. The soup itself is made by adding in rice noodles, meat (or fried tofu, which is my favorite), and onions. In addition, most restaurants then provide Hoisin sauce and sriracha and a plate of cilantro, basil, lime wedges, and bean sprouts for you to add according to your desires.
Even though I know the components, the exact chemical equation and construction is a mystery. The odd thing is that as much as I love Pho, I have come to have no interest in learning how to make it for myself. The closest I came was buying a ramen style pho packet that came with rice noodles and two secretive packets. I guess the main reason I have no interest in learning how to make Pho is that I think of Pho as a magic healing spell and knowledge of the enchantment seems blasphemous.
To me, it seems strange that someone like me who spends so much time thinking about food, dissecting recipes, and identifying nuances, compositions, flavor profiles, textures, variations, and subtleties (basically just over-analyzing food) could be happy not knowing about the mystery of her favorite food. But, I think for all of us there is one food that you accept whole-heartedly as is. Either it is a food your mom makes like no one else or your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant. For those foods, something is taken away by finding out it is just food, an equation, a permutation of ingredients.
So for me, Pho is off limits. It is magic. I have no need to conjure it up or find out how the trick is performed. I am content just to sit in awe of it.