Let me head this off at the pass – the word faux goes so well with pho. Faux is French for fake and putting faux near food is a nice way to denote inauthentic, wrong, not genuine food. Mon Dieu, there’s also the ‘shame on you’ French term faux pas. I’ve been simmering on the notion of faux pho (which has a whole host of wordplays that you probably already know) ever since I did a public radio interview with the Kojo Nnamdi show on the vibrant pho scene in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. One of the guests said that a local, critically acclaimed chef had prepared a faux pho.
Though I chuckled along with the other participants on the interview, in my mind I was thinking: What exactly is faux pho? There’s a whole industrial category of faux food that is used for displays; check out Fake-foods.com. In Asia, the Japanese excel at manufacturing fake plastic food. But I’m talking about the edible stuff that people are describing as faux pho. We're not talking window display here.
Among Asians, we love to make the call on whether or not food has been correctly prepared. I’ve heard people stridently proclaim that a dish is wrongly prepared. That can sometimes come off like an attack but it can also be a good thing. Last week, I posted the Thai pork belly stir-fry and incorrectly named the recipe, which confused several people. They said that the recipe name was wrong and I fact checked through my book sand saw the error of my ways. I made the correction. So having a foundation of knowledge of what’s what in a cuisine is important.
We’ve had lengthy discussions here on authenticity in Asian food, but the word faux seems different, despite the fact that it means inauthentic. Attaching faux to pho seems to give a pass to a dish that had deviated from classic approaches. Here are a few faux pho that I came across online:
- Faux pho recipe (Foodgeeks.com): The recipe was taken from a published Gourmet recipe and renamed faux pho. It calls for adding snow peas and using roast beef.
- Faux pho or The Real Thing? (Aminglingoftastes.com): A really interesting read of this blogger’s 2006 experience making pho from a different Gourmet, epicurious.com pho recipe than the one above. The recipe is missing a few key elements but is close. The blogger, Julie O’Hara, painstaking makes the pho but demurs at the end, labeling her rendition faux pho.
- Faux pho (Marvelousrecipes.com): Calls for capellini (angel-hair pasta), watercress, radishes, tamari and sesame oil. Sounds like a noodle soup but how close does it come to being pho?
- Faux pho with seitan (Veganplanet): Author, blogger Robin Robertson comes out front with defining why her pho is faux: it contains seitan. There is also linguine and miso. She also adds hoisin and soy sauce to the broth for a nice savory quality. The result looks like a nice East Asian noodle soup.
- Conquering College Cooking – Faux Pho (SF Examiner): Cleverly uses Top Ramen.
I’m not passing judgment on any of these recipes because if you’ve made and/or eaten at enough pho joints, you realize the following:
- Pho originally started out simply. During the pho's century-plus history, it went from being just noodles and cooked meat to covering all the major food groups. Pho isn’t a fixed entity.
- Pho is THE “have it your way” food. It’s perfect for picky, post-modern, 21st century diners.
- Pho comes in many versions. At Vietnamese pho restaurants, you may find beef (northern or southern Vietnamese versions), chicken, pork, seafood, vegetarian pho on pho menus.
Pho either tastes good or it doesn’t. Whether or not the pho tastes like your ideal embodiment of pho has to do with how closely it stuck to classic pho cooking techniques. For example, if you add vegetables other than onion and ginger to the broth, then that's more like a pot au feu than pho. (The Viet-Franco relationship is historically questionable.)
I’ve had instant pho imported from Vietnam and it’s okay, certainly servicable. I wouldn’t call it faux pho, but rather see it as a convenience food. Understandably, people attach "faux" to "pho" because it sounds cool and practically rolls off your tongue. But I don’t see a need to apologize for food that you think tastes good but isn’t 100% the real thing.
What are your thoughts on what faux pho is and not? Do you have a pho-ish or pho-inspired version of pho?
Related VWK links:
- History of Pho Noodle Soup
- Beef Pho Noodle Soup Recipe
- Chicken Pho Noodle Soup Recipe
- Pho Secrets and Techniques
- Instant pho noodles taste off