Friday, December 14, 2007

What's in a bowl?

So what's so important about a bowl of Pho? Well, this bowl, properly pronounced, "fuh" is what drove me mad almost every time I tried to get a ration of it in Korea. Why, because in Korea, all food is Korean: Italian, Thai,'s all a Korean version of it's real self.

This is what happens in a country that has such a strong history and reputation for xenophobia. At first it's kind of entertaining when you get some serious looks from the locals, but then you notice that you're not being singled out for being American...just not Korean. And even when you are Korean as I noticed with most of my closest friends in Korea, you're just not part of the close inner-circle of the person across the way from you. Now, don't let history and present situation of Korea hoodwink you into thinking that Korea is the most anti-outsider nation in the world.

Other countries top that list: Russia, Iraq, China, Japan. China and Japan are just much more polite in how they reveal it...And, like all those countries, once you let them know you're really interested in them and their country, and not just for the money that can be you actually learn to enjoy the food and put in an honest effort to learn the language and understand the culture, any country can be very inviting: like I say most of my closest friends in Korea are Korean where I was introduced to family and made part of many.

...then there was this need for a bowl. "Oh, all you have to do is ask for cilantro," some friends would say. But, there's more to a bowl of Pho, and other dishes like bun thit nuong and others, that mean more than cilantro. There's cilantro, basil and mint. There's the manner in which the broth for the soup is prepared with special little spices my Vietnamese friends have yet to tell me, and the way you don't marinate the thin slices of onion--the way it's done for Korean galbi.

--NO! NO! NO!

And that's why I prayed that when I got back to San Fransisco, after almost year in Korea that Vietnam II Seafood Restaurant would still be at 701 Larkin in Little Saigon. It was and I was elated! Don't get me wrong. Korean food is great...and I'm already getting the pangs for the hot decadence that offers an endorphine high to fight the ill effects of Korean winters and summers...but four years living in Saigon as a kid, and one year in a Vietnamese prison helps a person appreciate the finer things in life...