My love affair with pho began way back in 1980, after moving from a small town in British Columbia, Canada to attend an art college in Vancouver.
And like many students living in cramped rooming houses with only a hot plate to cook, I was always searching for eateries that served fast, inexpensive food.
That’s when I discovered My Tan on Broadway Avenue, which was among the first Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver.
The restaurant was operated by a family from Vietnam, who came to live in Canada.
I had my first bowl of pho at this little restaurant, which quickly became one of my go-to eating places during my college years.
|A bowl of rare beef, tendon and tripe pho served at a restaurant in Victoria, Canada. Photo: Chris Bradshaw|
Once you become exposed to Vietnamese pho, you start to look for it wherever you go.
In the mid-1980s there were only a few places that served pho in Vancouver, but word spread quickly in art school of a little family-run Cambodian/Vietnamese noodle place called the Phnom Penh.
Before long it became a student favorite, with their beef noodle pho topping the menu – rare slices of thin beef bathed in a fragrant, rich broth with rice noodles and fresh basil.
The award-winning restaurant is still operating today in East Georgia in Vancouver.
In the decades that followed, I’ve always searched out the local Vietnamese eatery in every place I’ve lived in British Columbia - almost always a family-run place with their own awesome versions of pho to feed your body and warm your soul.
In 2016, Anthony Bourdain’s CNN travel program Parts Unknown featured a segment with then-U.S. President Barack Obama in a small family-run restaurant in Hanoi.
And right there, my wife Lynn turned to me and said, “We have to go to Vietnam.”
As a life-long pho lover, I didn’t require much convincing.
|A bowl of beef pho served at a restaurant on Ly Chinh Thang Street, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
It took almost two years, but in 2018 we boarded a plane for the long flight from Canada to Vietnam, for a two-week visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Tre, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay.
On our first day in Ho Chi Minh City, a friend living in Vietnam took us to a local eatery, the Quan Chay Veggie House, which serves vegetarian and vegan versions of pho.
We chose a spicy vegetarian pho with tofu, a deep-fried dumpling, tomatoes and a host of fresh local greens on the side.
Such a wonderfully fresh, flavourful introduction to Vietnam.
|Chris Bradshaw is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.|
In Western countries like Canada, we tend to think of every noodle soup dish as a type of pho, often confusing it with Japanese ramen.
I’ve since learned that pho is made with rice noodles, whereas ramen uses wheat noodles.
Pho generally comes with chicken or beef broth and a choice of beef.
I also understand the dish was created in northern Vietnam.
One of my favorite types of pho, available in Victoria, Canada, contains rare beef, tendon, and tripe.
The fragrance and flavor of the dish can instantly transport me back to Vietnam in my mind.
Almost 40 years after beginning this love affair with pho, I finally checked a major item off my bucket list, to visit the country that created this iconic dish that is enjoyed around the world.
I’ll always crave the next bowl of steaming, fragrant, delicious pho, which may just be one of the world’s perfect foods.