Sometimes the most treasured recipes are ones that have become a part of your everyday life. Here, Peter Kuruvita shares the story of his family's favourite bowl.
10 Nov 2016 - 5:12 PM  UPDATED 22 Dec 2016 - 7:53 PM

I fell for pho in Ho Chi Minh City in 1996, when Karen and I went there as backpackers. It was still a very raw Vietnam, I recall it was hard to find accommodation there and we paid the royal amount of USD $25 for the best room in town.

The tourist boom was just beginning. We were instantly taken by the food and coffee. But pho was wondrous. There were many other food experiences that have stuck with me, like the prawn omelettes in Da Nang, the cao lau from Hoi An - now this dish really is the best there because of minerals in the water that is drawn directly from a well. But pho was everywhere; the fire generated from the chillies and the beautiful freshness of the herbs and crunch of the bean sprouts was irresistible.

Pho is a very special food, a gateway to our memories of Vietnam, every time I eat it, it evokes great memories.

When we arrived back to Australia, I discovered a great restaurant on George Street in Sydney called Pasteur. Simple tables, a nonchalant attitude from the family who were there every day, mum out the back rolling the beautiful fresh prawn spring rolls and keeping a firm eye on all her staff out back. The father was in the restaurant with the same few people and they are probably still there, I watched their kids grow up, and during their school holidays, and then their university holidays working the floor. The broth never changed, it was excellent every time. You could have standard, small, large or special, which had the beautiful gelatinous tendons in it. A big bowl of fresh Vietnamese basil and bean sprouts, their lukewarm tea, always brewed exactly the same, you normally used it to wash your chopsticks and spoon. It all just worked. You found yourself a seat and ordered the dish by the number and people from all walks of life dined there. I was there every week for years, so too my kids as they grew up would go there as well. With the kids there the stories of Vietnam would flow again. Our boys knew that this was a special place for us.

Pho is a very special food, a gateway to our memories of Vietnam, every time I eat it, it evokes great memories.

I started making pho when we moved to Queensland because we could no longer drive the few minutes from our Inner Sydney house for a quick bowl.

When I did start making it I loved the simplicity of it. The intense flavour that is brought about through the cooking of the bones, it's hearty and beautiful. I also love the idea of the paper thin slices of raw beef cooking in the boiling broth as it is poured over the ingredients.

Pho has always been unpretentious and democratic, inviting everyone to experience and appreciate it. However, pho also represents the history of Vietnam and its push for self-determination. Born during the French colonial period, this dish persisted through political upheaval and economic hardship, then resettled and flourished with Vietnamese immigrants all over the globe.

The noodle soup was created at the beginning of the 20th century as genius make-do cooking. French colonials in Vietnam ordered the slaughtering of cows for the steaks they craved. The bones and tough cuts were left to local cooks, who were used to cows as draft animals, but soon found a way to turn the leftovers into delicious broth with rice noodles and thinly sliced meat. It was sold as affordable street food that vendors customised for each diner. Pho fans came from all backgrounds, as the soup's popularity spread — from Hanoi in the north to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south. Inspiring cooks and even poets, it became Vietnam's national food.

Vietnamese people are nationalistic, and pho is not only part of their cuisine but also their pride. Yes, it was the French who made beef scraps available, and yes, many of the initial pho cooks were Chinese, but the noodle soup was created in Vietnam and cultivated it into something of their own. No one may claim pho but the Vietnamese, whom, as history has proven, are a feisty bunch.

I love food with a story; the Kuruvita clan has a dish we all love and we are proud to be connected through food with this amazing dish and people.

Get your hands on the Kuruvita family pho recipe right here.

Peter Kuruvita explores fresh & native ingredients in his series Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen. Visit the program page for more details, recipes and guides.

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