Sunday, September 7, 2008

Craving Phở

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I have a serious craving for Phở.

Actually... I've had this craving for several weeks now. Maybe even several months. It's possible that it's been even longer... perhaps several years.

I have a craving for Phở that simply cannot be quenched... fully.

What the heck is "Phở", you ask?

Good question!

Phở is a Vietnamese dish. Think of it as sort of a "Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup"... but in all honesty, that's a very simple description of it. Phở is so much more than that.

Phở (pronounced "fuh"... sort of like you're trying to say "foot" but you cut off half the vowel sounds and completely forget the "t" at the end - and pose the whole thing as a question) is sort of the "unofficial national dish of Vietnam". It is eaten for breakfast... for lunch... and for dinner. There are regional variances... though most stick to the basic foundation of white rice noodles... thinly sliced beef... and clear beef broth.

The broth isn't your basic 'American' (read "salty yet bland") beef broth! It's more of a true stock... made by simmering oxtails and bones with blackened onion and ginger - along with spices such as star anise, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and fennel seeds.

Phở is usually served with an assortment of garnishes that you can add in whatever combination and amount you wish. Onion... Basil leaves... Cilantro... Lemon and Lime... Hoisin Sauce... Bean Sprouts... Fish Sauce... etc.

In the end... Phở becomes a single-serving hot-pot (of sorts) full of Vietnamese flavors. It's more than a simple "noodle bowl"... it's flavors are more complex... yet at the same time, "simple". Whether you're having it for breakfast... or dinner - it's deeply satisfying.

Well... to me it is, anyway.

So - as I've already said - I have a serious craving for Phở.

I've had this craving for several weeks... perhaps several months... perhaps even several years.

Lately, this craving has been "thrown in my face" repeatedly...

I turn on the TV, and the show is Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" on the Travel Channel. He's in Vietnam... eating Phở.

I sit down to read some Anthony Bourdain... and within a few pages he's talking about Phở.

A friend sends out an e-mail of humorous images... and one shows the sign for a Vietnamese restaurant called "Phở King" - which, of course - would be pronounced "Fuh King".

And if it isn't direct references to Phở - it's references to Vietnam.

Then I find myself on the phone with someone from the offices of a local marketing agency... who is asking me questions to determine whether or not I'll qualify for an upcoming job...

Most of the questions are basic... "Age"... "Marital status"... "Any kids?" - etc., etc..

Some pertain to the specific job in question...

Then there's the final question: "If you could go anywhere in the world right now... where would you go?"

I asked "Anywhere?"

"Yes... anywhere. Where would you go?"

I replied "Back to bed"

She laughs.... then says: "Seriously... if you could go anywhere in the world right now... where would you go?"

And, without really thinking - I responded "Vietnam".

"VIETNAM!?!" she responded... sounding rather surprised. "Why Vietnam?" she asked.

"I have a serious craving for Phở" I responded. "So I guess I'd go there to get the best Phở I could."

Believe it or not she instantly knew what Phở was... and then went on about how she had a different job available that focused on Asian food...

... but that's not the point here.

The point is my response to the question: "If I could go anywhere in the world right now... I'd go to Vietnam for some Phở".

We finished the phone interview... and I hung up somewhat transformed. The meaning of my statement... and thus, the meaning of my craving - had just hit me like Newton's apple.

And I had to ask myself - is it really the Phở? Or is it something much, much deeper?

I used to eat Phở quite often, actually. Maybe not "every day" - but at least once or twice a month.

There was a Vietnamese restaurant near the place where I worked. I'd get a to-go order of Phở... and sit at MY work bench... eating my lunch - perhaps in-between having framed an original Robert Mapplethorpe photo or Joan Miró painting for some wealthy Greenwich collector and matting some watercolors for Gene Wilder (yes... THAT Gene Wilder). While James Brown played over the six speakers that filled the room... and while my brother danced at his work bench... I'd sit and eat Phở - or whatever the hell I chose to have for lunch that day... paging through a magazine or newspaper... laughing as all of us who worked in that room told fish stories and such...

... and at the end of the day I'd walk out of that room... hop on a train... enjoy the almost two-hour journey back home... knowing that tomorrow would be the same... and that the Phở was there if I wanted it.

It has been almost 10 years now, since the last time I had Phở.

It has been almost 10 years now, since I left my job... a job I loved - and despite any actions on my part - was truly honored and blessed to have. The gallery is gone now... having closed down several years ago. It's only a memory now.

Ten years.

A decade.

And I have a serious craving for Phở.

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