Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Finally found Pho. Apparently, I’ve been mispronouncing it; it’s pronounced like “f-ugh”. It’s a Vietnamese beef broth-based soup. I first had it in Sioux Falls in a Vietnamese family owned restaurant, and I fell in love with it. The broth has noodles and vegetables and spices like onions and anise, and comes with bean sprouts, jalapeno peppers, lime and parsley. Although you can get fewer types of meats, the deluxe version of their soup included sirloin steak, meatballs, brisket, chicken, tendon and tripe. Yes, tendons and intestine lining.
And it was delicious.
The bowl was huge and was more than enough for a meal. I always overate because I couldn’t imagine letting any of it go to waste. Unfortunately, I’ve been out of Sioux Falls for a few years now, and haven’t had it since, and I am not ashamed to tell you that I have been craving it. I mean, desperately craving it, for several weeks now. After taking a trip on Tuesday, I decided to give my vehicle (the now infamous “Corinne”) a bath to get the bugs off of her and maybe prepare her for inclement weather. I took her to one of those overpriced car wash places where you can buy a regular pass (no, I don’t have one), and as I was driving along the access road heading to the car wash I passed a small strip mall. I looked at the restaurant on the end of it, a Mexican restaurant that looked a little bit upscale and thought to myself that it looks pretty good and maybe I should try it for lunch after the car wash. On the other end of the strip mall is another little placed called, simply, “Vietnamese Restaurant”.
Are you kidding me? THANK YOU, GOD!!!!
I’m pretty single-minded, so I resolved to get the car wash first and have a late lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant. Pho is apparently something of a national dish in Vietnam, so it should be available at pretty much any Vietnamese restaurant. I was looking forward to it.
At the car wash, I was speaking with the attendant as he ran my card. I asked him if the Vietnamese restaurant, literally diagonally across the street from them, was good. His response was along the lines of, “I don’t know but the Mexican restaurant is excellent!”
It got me to thinking about Americans proclivity towards “comfort”. This Vietnamese restaurant, which, by the way, was very good and very inexpensive, was literally half the distance from the Mexican restaurant, both of which are walking distance from the car wash. You literally have to walk past it to get to the Mexican restaurant. But while Mexican food is very well-known to the American palate, far fewer have ever tried Vietnamese food. Here’s this young man who at any time could have tried a new cultural experience but chooses to pass it by, apparently routinely, for the Mexican restaurant further down in the strip mall to spend more money (I looked at the menu). I don’t know if he would like it more or less, but neither does he.
I’m not afraid of food, including things like tripe and tendon. I drove past the Pho restaurant in Sioux Falls many times before trying it, each time thinking to myself, I should try that. How do we know what we like if we’re not adventurous enough to try it. And if we don’t like it, what have we lost? A few bucks for uneaten food and go to the pizza place down the road for food we’re more comfortable with. But, when we find something we love, it’s worth all of the failures.
I’ve never really tried a type of food I haven’t liked. There are dishes I don’t like. For example, I find that most Indian sweets (often based on condensed milk) don’t suit my palate, but I do love Indian food. It’s the same logic, in fact, that leads me to buy CD’s instead of singles. If I hear a song I like and decide to buy it, that’s all fine and good, but how do I know if the band has other songs I’ve not heard that I might like as well? By buying the CD, I might end up with a dog of an album that I really don’t like (as has happened), but it’s also possible I’ll find a new band I enjoy and a lot of music that I like that I would not have otherwise heard as has frequently happened. In fact, I’ve written about one of these bands, Calamine, in the past.
Courage, my dear readers. Humans have good taste in food around the world, even if their tastes differ from ours. I encourage you to try the foods of different cultures when you have the chance. Meat and potatoes will always be there to return to but take the adventure. You might just eventually find yourself craving Pho.