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Pho for Project MANA Fundraiser

Truckee, Oct. 10
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INFO: $40/community dinner, Oct. 10, 6 p.m., Cottonwood Restaurant, 10142 Rue Hilltop, Truckee, (775) 298-4161,

For the record, pho, the classic soup-like Vietnamese dish, is pronounced “fuh” and can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But for all intents and purposes the dish has become an American favorite, which, unfortunately, means the traditional recipe sometimes gets lost in translation.

Five Truckee/Tahoe chefs are about to have the record set straight by 76-year-old Mai Doan, who was the head chef at one of the first Vietnamese restaurants in California, opened in the 1970s and called Saigon Inn. Doan will be teaching the chefs the art of pho as a benefit for Project MANA. The five lucky chefs — who come from Cottonwood Restaurant, Northstar, Margs Taco Bistro, Tahoe Food Hub, and The Seasoned Sage — will arrive at the Cottonwood kitchen on the morning of Oct. 10 to join Doan in preparing the soup, which can take eight hours to perfect. The pho will be served that evening to members of the public along with a traditional Vietnamese chicken salad called goi ga.

While I am sure we would all love to attend this exclusive cooking class, there is only space for five chefs. We emailed some questions to Doan, which her daughter translated, so we could get a little insider scoop about what will happen on Oct. 10. Here is what she had to say …

Tell me a little bit about what exactly pho is and why it is so important in Vietnam?

Pho is thought to have originated from the French pot au feu, a traditional and hearty stew. It was introduced to Vietnam during the French colonization during the 1880s. Pho is comfort food equivalent to chicken noodle soup in other cultures. Pho is composed of water, bones/meat proteins, beef, chicken, or lamb (northern Vietnam uses lamb; no beef in the mountain area), aromatic herbs, spices (star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom), vegetables (onion, ginger, shallot, basil, green onions), and rice noodles. Its flavoring and comforting bowl of goodness is a complete meal. Pho can be eaten throughout the day from breakfast to midnight snack. Each region and even each household has its own version of pho using slightly different aromatic herbs and spices. Although each pho shop has its own unique taste, the baseline smell and aroma is unmistakable.

When did you see pho start to get popular in the U.S.?

In the United States, pho started to get more popular during the 1990s as more Vietnamese restaurants opened up. Saigon Inn was opened in Fresno, Calif. in 1978, and it was the first Vietnamese restaurant in the Central Coast and, although we can’t confirm for sure, it was cited among the first in California.

How is authentic pho soup different from something we might get locally?

Pho cannot be rushed. The broth is made rich and deep from simmering with the beef and chicken bones, onions, ginger, and other spices. We call it “sucking the marrow out of the bone.” Real, good broth should have depth and flavor and not just salt.  It’s complex.

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January 10, 2019