Pho : A Vietnamese Delicacy: Background information when reading The Beauty of Humanity Movement

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The Beauty of Humanity Movement

A Novel

by Camilla Gibb

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 320 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Pho : A Vietnamese Delicacy

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In Camilla Gibb's novel The Beauty of Humanity Movement, Old Man Hung is the resourceful owner of a rickety pho stand, and, in many ways, he holds the community together throughout Vietnam's political turmoil, one bowl at a time.

Pho Image Pho (pronounced "fuh") is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup that is eaten at any time of day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). It is usually made with some kind of meat - rare steak slices (pho tái), tripe (pho sách), chicken (pho gà), or often beef meatballs (pho bò viên) - and is served with basil, bean sprouts, fresh lime and hot peppers on the side. As noted in NPR's news story, Pho Sells, the clear, brown, flavorful broth is what makes pho particularly special; washed beef bones are traditionally cooked for eight to ten hours with charred onions, cilantro, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise.

Pho Stand Image According to an article in Taipei Times, it is "widely believed by linguists and word sleuths that the word pho is not Vietnamese, but in fact comes from the French term [for hot pot] pot au feu (literally 'pot on the fire', pronounced 'pot oh fuh')." In 1885 Vietnam was colonized by France and became an official part of French Indochina. Consequently, many cultural changes were imposed upon the Vietnamese people, resulting in "loan words" such as the Vietnamese word for cheese, pho mat (in French fromage), and cake, ga to (in French gateau).

Although the history of this tasty soup is uncertain, it is generally believed that pho originated in North Vietnam near Hanoi in the mid-1800s (when beef consumption increased due to French influence) and then spread throughout the country as people migrated south. Many years later as Vietnamese emigrants fled a war-torn country in the 1970s and thereafter, pho was introduced to many different areas and cultures around the world including the North American West Coast, Australia and France, and is now enjoyed world-wide.

(Pho image by Kham Tran, street stall image by Shellack)

This article was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the February 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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