My family regularly had our own pho party on Sunday mornings, but when I was growing up, I didn’t realize it. We’d attend 8 a.m. Mass, eat the little communion wafer, and our tummies would start to rumble. “Join us for doughnuts and coffee in the hall after service,” someone would announce but I knew that we’d never participate. My family quickly piled back into our station wagon and sped home.
Mom would change out of her fancy silk ao dai tunic and slip on a more casual blouse suitable for cooking. Some of us would set the table while others formed an assembly line to set up the bowls for pho. I was often in charge of portioning out the noodles. “Remember to put extra noodles in Dad’s bowl,” someone would say, as if I didn’t remember from the zillion times before.
“I don’t like the raw onion. None for me,” my sister Tasha would chime in. I quickly learned that pho was highly personalized. Within my own family of seven people, each had his or her preferences.
As we assembled the bowls, we’d remember whose was where. Meanwhile, my mom reheated the broth and finished its seasoning. When all the pho bowls were assembled, she’d ladle the hot broth into each bowl and someone would bring it to the table. My dad would always be served first. We chatted while we ate and it was a fun group activity. Our family of seven was having our own pho brunch party.
There was work at the front end but my mom did it mostly on Saturday, when she brewed the beef or chicken pho. The broth and cooked proteins sat in the fridge overnight and the next morning, she prepped the noodles, toppings, and garnishes before going to church. She then marshaled us kids to help her put things together. Together as a family, we were a mini pho stand and pho fest!