And now for my weekly "blast-from-the-past" quasi-cheekiness:
MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2007
This is a perfect letter to be writing after waking up from a nap. I'm all groggy and cloudy-headed, and the words "Dear Pho" kind of just fall out of my mouth like cotton balls after I was anesthetized by the dentist (for those of you who don't know, "pho" is pronounced like "fuh"). But I guess this probably isn't the first time somebody has been amused at the pronunciation of your name at your expense. Sorry about that.
Anyway, I'm sitting here at the computer with a steaming bowl of you right in front of me. It's leftover from dinner a few nights ago, but it still seems to be perfect for the moment: I look out the window directly in front of me to see one more overcast, rainy, cold Portland day, and my body is just trying to shake off a nap, making my slowed metabolism cause me to feel a little colder than normal. The steam from you is dancing right in front of my eyes as I write, and it seems very reassuring.
It's funny that I'm happy to have you in front of me right now because I used to talk so much ish about you, back in the day. When I first moved to Portland, I noticed all sorts of places that specialized in you around town, and it piqued my curiosity. So I did a little research to find out that you were basically just beef broth with noodles and some other crap thrown in. That's it. So when random Portlanders kept telling me about how a specific restaurant "had good pho," I couldn't help but scoff: stupid Portlanders.
It seemed so perfect for this town full of hippies and cultural appropriators (everyone being so proud in their proper pronunciation of your name) to talk about "good pho." I mean, how could there be anything but one version of you? Beef broth. With noodles. That was like saying that Safeway sold some "good Cup o' Noodles." As if one cup tasted different than another cup. Couldn't I just cut the top off a Swanson's beef broth container, throw some veggies and crap in it and call it "good pho?"
But in spite of my best contempt, people continued to talk about you and order you for dinner and talk about good places to get you. And so - about a year ago (and two years into my time in Portland) - I found myself on a crappy, overcast day at another Pan-Asian restaurant (that's another thing Portland specializes in, so-called "Chinese" or "Vietnamese" restaurants that actually serve dishes from all over the Continent, furthering white people's beliefs that we're "all the same"). I was hungry and feeling dark because of the weather, but I wasn't REAL hungry, and I was craving veggies. And - suddenly - you became the perfect option (this, of course, coming about a year after I finally relented and decided that soup was - indeed - food). And so I ordered you.
And when you were served to me, all steamy and hot in your bowl, I actually salivated. Diving in with my chopsticks first, I scooped large clump after large clump of soft noodles into my mouth to kill my initial hunger. Then, less desperate to fill my belly, I chose out some veggies to eat - and they still crunched. The basil gave you a nice, fresh taste and mouth-feel, and the chunks of meat gave you substance. Finally, I lifted the giant bowl to my lips and drank down your salty, oily broth, which coated my stomach like a warm, satisfying blanket. My body comfortably warm and my hunger and cravings thus satisfied, I declared, "That was some GOOD pho." And I haven't looked back. I get it now - you're not popular here because of Portland culture, but because of the crappy weather. Your warmth and perceived freshness in the midst of the Season of Seasonal Affective Disorder are a ray of hope in a sky of gray.
Now, I still sniff with a bit of contempt when somebody recommends a "good pho" place, but then I take note and try it the next time I have you for dinner. Because you really do hit a very specific spot a lot of the time. Not to mention that a lot of places that have you also serve avocado shakes or home-made lime-ade. That fact alone kind of makes you cool.
And so I acknowledge your special goodness. I thank you for the times we've had and how you opened my eyes, and I will definitely share you with any outsiders who come to visit me. But now, you're getting cold, and I need to eat you.
Be careful on the way down,