Don’t you hate it when a friend mispronounces a word that you KNOW is correctly pronounced another way? Do you say something? Do you let it go? This one really bugs me. I had a conversation with my friend, Bucky, yesterday about Pho, a favorite noodle soup. We had eaten it twice, when I had visited him. BUT….he calls it “Foe.” The debate on proper pronunciation of the word, “Pho,” is heated. Of course, it is a given that food vocabulary is constantly mispronounced by those who do not know better, and Pho is high on the list of commonly mispronounced words. Some people are adamant that the “o” is long, while others contend the soup should be pronounced as “fuh. To make sure I was correct, last night, I asked my friend, Gunter, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City. He informed me that I was correct. “Pho” is correctly pronounced, “Fuh”. He lives there….so that settles it. “Pho” does not mean “soup”. The word refers to the noodles — flat, long rice noodles — not the soup itself, although it is commonly associated with the dish as a unit. The two main types of soup are pho bo, which is made with beef broth, and pho ga, made with chicken broth. Of course, I go for the vegetarian version, which contains neither of those dead animals.
If you ask for just pho in Vietnam, according to my friend, you are probably going to get Pho Bo. Pho is often eaten for breakfast, usually at places similar to our food carts here in the USA. In Vietnam, it is rarely eaten at home…but I make it at home frequently, because my husband really loves it.
Pho became popular in the mid 1800s in Hanoi. However, some scholars believe the French are responsible for the soup. They argue their position based on two points. First, they claim that the French were the ones that introduced beef to Vietnam in the first place…at least as a mainstream offering. It had formerly been a country that had favored pork and shrimp as their #1 meat selections. Therefore, some argue that Pho materialized in Vietnam under French colonial rule. Others argue that the French actually did NOT affect beef’s popularity in Vietnam, however, and attribute its introduction there to the Chinese. Yet another argument for the French origin of pho comes from the French dish pot-au-feu, a beef stew from the Burgundy region of France made with vegetables. (I also make a delicious vegetarian version of this dish.) Some people believe the Vietnamese adapted this particular dish under colonial rule, and that the word — and pronunciation of — pho comes from the word feu. Others believe that the word comes from “fen,” the Chinese word for rice noodles. In his book, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” Andrew Lam discusses the origin of Pho, and tells why the soup is more Vietnamese than anything else. He also elaborates on why the soup is called “Fuh” and not “Foe”. If you doubt what I am telling you is true, please read the book. Oh…and the next time you call this iconic soup “fuh,” which is correct, do appreciate the fact that the varied roots of this yummy and ultimately comforting dish are the greatest defense of all. Care for some Pho? (pronounced FUH). (not FOE).