Thomas Nguyen: The Development of Chinese Cuisine in the United States


Chinese food has a long history in the United States. Immigrants from China first came to the country for work and brought their recipes for food along with them. They focused on jobs in the service industry due to discrimination. As a result, Chinese restaurants had to adapt their recipes because of the lack of native ingredients and to accommodate the tastes of Americans. This resulted in a new American Chinese cuisine that had heavy influences of American cooking and ingredients. This also resulted in famous creations such as chop suey, chow mein, and General Tso’s chicken. While Americans have considered these creations to be prevalent in China, in reality they are American inventions that satisfy the desire of an exotic food conforming to the American palate. However, traditional Chinese cuisine remains in the United States within the homes of family immigrants, and these dishes often have a significance to them that is passed down throughout generations of the family. Chinese immigrant families do eventually become accustomed to Western diets due to assimilation to the once-foreign country. While American Chinese cuisine has diverged significantly from traditional Chinese cuisine, authenticity is more important than ever as these traditional dishes continue to hold special meaning to immigrant families.  

Thomas Nguyen

Professors Ristaino and Li

Italian/Chinese 370W

8 August 2019

The Development of Chinese Cuisine in the United States

            The United States is often known as a multicultural country with various ethnic groups that have immigrated for new opportunities and called the land as their home. While these ethnic groups would assimilate to American society, they would still attempt to maintain their culture and customs. One of the ways they would retain their culture is through cuisine, and in particular, the Chinese have brought their food to the United States. Today there are tens of thousands of Chinese restaurants that are commonplace in the United States (Lu 1995). However, these restaurants are not true representations of Chinese cuisine. Because of the difference of dietary preferences between the two cultures, American Chinese food is drastically different from traditional Chinese food, and it has emerged as its own distinct cuisine with its own ingredients and flavors that appeal to American tastes. While American Chinese cuisine continues to be popular in the United States, traditional Chinese cuisine still exists in select local restaurants and in the homes of Chinese immigrant families and Chinese-Americans maintaining their original culture.

            Chinese immigrants had first arrived in the United States in the early 1800s to work in low-income jobs such as mining and railroad construction (Zong 2017). Their labor had a profound effect on the growth of the United States as a country after the Civil War such as with the development of the transcontinental railroad. While setting into the relatively new country, the Chinese faced backlash among their white counterparts, becoming as extreme as the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to limit Chinese immigration into the United States. As a result of the discrimination, the Chinese immigrants would form enclave communities, resulting in Chinatowns in major cities like San Francisco. They also focused on jobs in the service industry such as laundromats and restaurants. To remember their culture in a foreign land, the immigrants would use recipes from home as a way to maintain their heritage. As part of their culture, food is essential to a healthy life and helps to strengthen family and community times as this was especially important in an ethnic enclave. Chinese restaurants would provide this sense of community while at the same time introducing Chinese food to the United States.

            However, traditional Chinese cuisine has flavors and ingredients that would otherwise be unfamiliar or unavailable in the United States. As a result, Chinese restaurants had to adapt with the available ingredients and create dishes that suited the typical American palate. Ingredients such as broccoli, carrots, and onions are familiar American vegetables used in cooking when they would otherwise be unfamiliar in China (Lu 1995). Savory flavors would be modified to sweeter flavors to satisfy American tastes. As more Chinese restaurants opened throughout the country, the foods served at these restaurants would greatly diverge from traditional cuisine to the point that they would be unrecognizable to Chinese people. This “Americanization” of Chinese food has resulted in variations of traditional dishes and even new creations such as General Tso’s chicken and fortune cookies (Lu 1995). As a result, a distinct American Chinese cuisine emerged, and it has since become incredibly popular in the country for its American take on a once-exotic cuisine.

            When making these foods, Chinese restaurants in America had to adapt to what was available for them. Not only was the palate of their customers different but also the resources they had. In modern times, the balance between cost and quality is essential to maintain a customer base (Lu 1995). American Chinese dishes would use American vegetables that were locally available such as broccoli and carrots to satisfy customer needs and save money. Restaurants would also sacrifice authentic Chinese vegetables such as bamboo shoots due to their relatively more expensive cost and distaste among American customers. Cooking methods are also different in preparing American Chinese food. Restaurants focus on efficiency to accommodate the fast-pace of American life with quicker cooking methods, fewer ingredients, and incredibly hot stoves (Lu 1995). As a result, these American Chinese dishes lose the “authenticity” of traditional Chinese dishes. Customers who value traditional Chinese food will attempt to find it, and the concept of “authenticity” is used to attract customers who are tired of the “Americanized” Chinese food and seeking for a more truthful version of it (Lu 1995).

One of the most popular American Chinese dishes that represents this process is chop suey. It is a dish with no specific recipe or set of ingredients; rather, it is a mixture of different vegetables and meat stir-fried together with a thick sauce served over rice or noodles. The word “chow” in Chinese means “to stir-fry,” and together as “chop suey,” it means “animal intestines” (Liu 2009). This seemingly unappealing name reveals a cultural value of traditional Chinese cuisine of not wasting meat as much as possible. However, to appeal to American tastes, Chinese cooks would instead use a mixture of ingredients that were acceptable to Americans such as chicken and mushrooms. Due to the adaptability of the dish, chop suey became famous throughout America as an accessible Chinese dish. This resulted in a wave of popularity for the dish, spreading to major cities in the United States starting from the Chinatown of New York and all the way to San Francisco (Liu 2009). However, Americans had eventually realized that the chop suey familiar to them is not truly authentic, and that it is a virtually unknown dish in China (Liu 2009). Chop suey had become so disconnected with traditional Chinese cuisine that it had essentially become an American dish with a foreign name.

            Noodle dishes of China have also undergone this process of “Americanization.” Chow mein and lo mein are both iconic dishes of American Chinese cuisine that have been modified from traditional Chinese noodles to appeal to the American taste. “Chow mein” means “stir-fried noodles” while lo mein means “tossed noodles.” Both of these dishes consist of egg noodles that are quickly cooked in a wok in a sauce with a mixture of meat and vegetables. However, the difference between the noodles is the method of cooking. Chow mein is made by stir-frying the noodles, resulting in crunchier noodles and highlighting the American preference for fried foods (Lu 1995). On the other hand, lo mein is pulled and tossed; this results in a softer texture to the noodle (Cappiello 2019). Lo mein usually has more vegetables and sauce compared to chow mein and has distinctive flavors rather than a blend that chow mein possesses. Interestingly, unlike most of American Chinese food, lo mein actually has an authentic counterpart in China. However, in China it is cooked with a thinner sauce with fewer ingredients and served with more vegetables such as bok choy and cabbage (Wilson 2018).

            General Tso’s chicken is a popular American Chinese dish that also had its origins purely in the United States. Inspired by a famous military general in China, General Tso’s chicken has become a symbol of American Chinese food perceived to be of Chinese origin. The dish is well-known for its tangy sauce and crunchy texture. A chef named Peng Chang-kuei invented the recipe based on his own influences from the Hunan province of China (Hosking 2006). Hunanese cuisine is typically savory with an emphasis on salty and sour, but in order to appeal to American taste buds, Peng had to modify his recipe by including plenty of sugar atypical of Hunanese cooking. He also deep-fried the chicken to appeal to American preference for fried foods despite the cooking technique being uncommon in Hunan. These changes resulted in what is now called General Tso’s chicken: a sweet and savory dish with a crispy texture iconic among Chinese restaurants in America. The dish also inspired imitations around the world, even in Hong Kong (Hosking 2006). However, Americans have become so accustomed to this seemingly exotic dish that they forget the questionable authenticity of it from its ingredients to even the origins of its name.  

            However, traditional Chinese dishes continue to exist in the United States within the homes of immigrant families. These families cater towards their own members and are not forced to adapt their recipes to American influences. For instance, ping an mien is a noodle dish that is not found in typical American Chinese restaurants. Susanna Chen recounts her experience with ping an mien and her family in the United States (Chen 2014). The noodle dish is a family tradition passed through multiple generations. At first, Chen did not care much of the dish until her boyfriend had to leave for his studies. The name ping an mien means “peaceful noodles” and is made when sending someone far away (Chen 2014). In order for Chen to make the noodles, she had to consult her mother for the recipe and go to the supermarket to obtain the necessary ingredients. Despite not making it perfectly according to her mother’s given instructions, Chen manages to recreate not just an authentic Chinese dish from her family, but also a meaningful one with a tradition that bonds loved ones together when they depart. These family recipes are the truly authentic dishes of Chinese cuisine in the United States. Unfortunately, Americans who are accustomed to American Chinese cuisine would most likely not recognize this as a traditional dish, especially one with such a special meaning to Chinese families.

            However, Chinese immigrant families in the United States are not completely immune to Western influences in their diet. Despite the immigrants’ maintaining their culinary traditions, assimilation gradually but eventually occurs as they are in a foreign land. According to a study conducted by Jessie Satia and colleagues in Seattle, many Chinese households who had not completely assimilated into American culture had Western foods such as butter and snack chips (Satia 2001). Families who have high-fat foods in their household “had higher-fat dietary behavior” indicative of Western diets (Satia 2001). Although assimilation occurs to ethnic groups in a foreign country, the Chinese families still attempt to maintain their traditions through food but have also adapted to the foods available to them in the new country.

Chinese food in America has adapted to its new culture through various changes resulting in American Chinese cuisine. This is reflected through new cooking styles and use of American ingredients to accommodate for American tastes. However, the dishes of American Chinese cuisine have lost their identity as truly Chinese dishes, making them American dishes with Chinese names to it. American Chinese restaurants have grown immensely popular over the years with successful restaurants such as Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s becoming iconic names in American fast food. The distinction between American Chinese and traditional Chinese cuisine has grown prominent over the years, and “authenticity” is valued more than ever. However, homes of Chinese immigrant families maintain traditional Chinese foods because of their familiarity and significance. A selection of restaurants also maintains certain traditions of Chinese food such as dim sum. Chinese cuisine in America is still evolving, taking influence from American cuisine, but traditional Chinese cuisine still maintains its standing within immigrant families. Perhaps someday American tastes will be more open to traditional Chinese cuisines, but in the meantime, American Chinese cuisine continues to serve as the link from an “Americanized” versions of Chinese food to truly authentic ones that still hold special meaning to immigrant families.


Works Cited

Cappiello, Emily. “What Is the Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein?” Chowhound, Chowhound, 21 Mar. 2019,

Chen, Susannah. “Ping An Mien, a Chinese Family Noodle Story.” Chowhound, Chowhound, 7 July 2014,

Hosking, Richard. Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005. Prospect Books, 2006.

Liu, Haiming. “Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food: The Culinary Identity of Chinese Restaurants in the United States.” Journal of Transnational American Studies, 16 Feb. 2009,

Liu, Junru. Chinese Food. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Lu, Shun, and Gary Alan Fine. “The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity: Chinese Food as a Social Accomplishment.” The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3, 1995, pp. 535–553., doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.1995.tb00452.x.

Newman, Jacqueline M. “Chow Mein.” Flavor & Fortune, pp. 25–27.

Satia, Jessie A, et al. “A Household Food Inventory for North American Chinese.” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 4, no. 2, 2001, pp. 241–247., doi:10.1079/phn200097.

Wilson, Laurie. “What Is the Difference Between Lo Mein in China and in Chinatown?” Chowhound, Chowhound, 5 Apr. 2018,

Wilson, Laurie. “What Is the Difference Between Lo Mein in China and in Chinatown?” Chowhound, Chowhound, 2 Aug. 2019,

Zong, Jie, et al. “Chinese Immigrants in the United States.”, 29 Sept. 2017,

I due cuscini by Thomas Nguyen

For Jen Lu


this morning

I was wondering

How much of our

Expressions of love

Revolve around food

Two sitting pillows

And a desk between us


For you

I will show you new things

We argue with our chopsticks

Both wanting the other

To quickly get the first bite

I say, no, try first

I’ll feed you a piece

Or I’ll eat the rest of it


Over a bowl of fried rice

I suggested

We eat it with our forks

It tasted much better

I licked soy sauce

Off the prongs


Last night we ordered

Chocolate tiramisu cake

After Chinese food

I moved jokingly

For you to lick the wrapper

Its crumbs waiting for us

We watched both sides

And sneak our last licks


You order for me

In broken Vietnamese

To surprise me with a dish

And pretend not to notice me

Fumbling with my

Fork over noodles

I refused to use chopsticks

Even though it would be easier

I like to entertain you

As noodles plummet to the floor


You ask me to tell you a story

I asked to hear one of yours

We tried hard to speak and listen

Over the loudness of chatter

and parents calling to ask

if we were alright or not


Of course we are


We are connecting and eating

We are happy


I steal a flower

From a bouquet in the hall

And bring it back to you

You open all its petals

You’re in my arms now

When we are at home


This is why I love you


  1. What piece did you choose to imitate?

Jennifer Barone’s “Le due sedie” in Saporoso

  1. Why did you choose this piece?

The Italian title drew my attention at first, but after translating it into English, the title fascinated me even more. I wondered why the poet would pick such an odd title of “The two chairs” in a collection of poems about pasta, but after reading it, I began to realize the true meaning of the poem.

When reading the poem, I related to the poet’s relationship with her boyfriend to my own relationship with my girlfriend. When the two shared a meal of noodles, I thought of times when I had shared a meal with my girlfriend too. It was a way for them to bond as a couple, and the further I read into the poem, the more I saw a part of myself with my own girlfriend too.

  1. What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

The poet references the two chairs as a reference of her and her boyfriend’s usual “displays of affection” that commonly occur while sharing a meal together. Her reflection highlights the small moments during the meal that reinforces her love for her boyfriend. In her culture, love is shown through gestures and seemingly unimportant moments. For instance, despite the poet not being able to use chopsticks proficiently, she continues to use them to eat her noodles not only to entertain her boyfriend, but also to show that she cares about his Vietnamese culture to try his eating customs. Her culture also appreciates the time spent when sharing a meal with a person. Even though the poet and her boyfriend did not have the most standard meal (“argue with our forks,” “lick the plate,” and “noodles dribble down my chin”), she is still incredibly grateful of the meal and him when she declares that “we are happy” and “this is why I love you.”

  1. What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

When reading this poem, it resonated with me more than usual because I had also shared similar thoughts with the poet. I had realized that my own culture emphasizes sharing meals together as a bonding experience. Whenever I am at home, I would always share a meal with my parents and sister as a way to reconnect with them. I would love the little moments such as my dad cracking a clever joke or my sister struggling to eat her dribbling noodles like the poet. Whenever I am away from home, I would also share a meal with my girlfriend during our free time as a way to reconnect with her. Similar to the poet, our little interactions with food warm my heart. She constantly amuses me with her desperate struggling with chopsticks, feeding me a tasty bite from her food, and smiling brightly with a quick and cute nod to indicate that the food is indeed delicious. These small moments during my meals, despite being seemingly insignificant, make me love my family and girlfriend even more. In my culture, when we share our food with someone we love, we can be fully comfortable and vulnerable with the other person. It reminds us of how special we are as individuals, and ultimately, how much we love each other when together.

  1. Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

There are multitudes of cultural DNA in the original poem indicated by the food from different cultures she eats. The poet is aware of going against Western customs by suggesting that she and her boyfriend eat the pasta with her bare hands. She also eats Japanese food and Vietnamese food that her boyfriend orders for them. Her struggle with chopsticks shows her appreciation of her boyfriend’s Vietnamese culture.

In my piece, I also show the cultural DNA of me and my girlfriend. We sit on pillows on a low desk to eat as sometimes done in our culture. We “argue with chopsticks” rather than “with forks” as in the original to reflect our preference for chopsticks when eating. For our meal, we also eat Chinese food and Italian tiramisu. Most importantly, our “parents calling to ask” shows our continuing connection to our family as they check on the well-being of me and my girlfriend. Just as having meals with my family connects me with them, having meals with my girlfriend connects me with her even more, makes us happy, and reminds me of why I love her.

Thomas Nguyen: The Beauty of the Noodle

The noodle is a simple creation, yet its complexity lies in its variations as a staple food around the world. The food has a long and rich cultural history, and it is essential to the diets of several cultures around the world, such as the Chinese and the Italians. Within these cultures, they each have their own interpretation of the noodle, and consequently, this results in regional variations of the simple noodle. Throughout time, the noodle and its dishes have expanded and adapted not only to its location but also its definition by culture and region.

Geography and technique are the main factors that influence the noodle and dishes of the particular region. The location of a culture results in different preferences for noodles. One notable difference is the noodles of northern China compared to those of southern China. Northern China has a colder climate suitable for growing wheat whereas southern China has a warmer climate favorable for growing rice. As a result, wheat noodles predominate the north while rice noodles are more common in the south. Noodles become even more varied based on the region and the techniques used to make them. According to “Noodles, traditionally and today” from Journal of Ethnic Foods, there are thousands of types of noodles based on its shape and preparation technique. Some varieties include hand-pulled noodles and bamboo-pressed noodles mentioned in “Noodles, Pressed and Pulled” from Slippery Noodles. Bamboo pressing results in the firm texture reminiscent to Italian al dente pasta compared to that of hand-pulled noodles. Similarly, there are thousands of varieties of pasta noodles in Italy depending on the region according to Let the Meatballs Rest with shapes such spaghetti, maccheroni, ravioli, and lasagna. One notable instance of this variation is present in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. According to Let the Meatballs Rest, the tortellini of Emilia are filled with meat because of its preference for pork while the cappelletti of Romagna are filled with cheese because of its preference for sheep products.

Along with the different noodle variations comes its different meanings for a culture. For the Italians, the shapes of the pasta represent different flavors from different experiences. Italian culture highly values family unity and experience, and the Italian nonna (grandmother) preparing her own interpretation of pasta for her family to enjoy is the perfect embodiment of this idea. According to Let the Meatballs Rest, “experience teaches us the different shapes of pasta” and “produce different effects on the taste buds.” Therefore, “[f]orm leads to different flavor.” The Chinese also have meanings associated with their noodles. For instance, the “crossing-the-bridge” noodles are named after the actions of a cook to ensure his patron’s son succeed in his imperial exams according to Noodle by Terry Durack. The story highlights the importance of education and family in Chinese culture, but most importantly, it emphasizes the love a cook puts into the noodles to create a dish for the son to enjoy and ultimately enjoy a successful life. Additionally, Thomas Talhelm’s Rice Theory states that the difference in agricultural methods to produce noodles between northern and southern China have led to cultural differences between the two regions. The north primarily grows wheat and produces wheat noodles while the south grows rice and produces rice noodles. Wheat is easier to grow, allowing for farmers to focus more on themselves, while rice requires more labor and cooperation. As a result, northerners are more individualistic and independent while southerners are more cooperative and dependent. Therefore, even different noodles in the same country can convey different cultural values.

The noodle is ultimately such an integral part of Chinese and Italian foods that it has become a part of the lives of these two countries. Today, it is considered as a staple of their diets. For instance, “Noodles, traditionally and today” classifies noodles as a cereal food, an essential part of the Chinese diet and “the main source of energy for the human body.” Italians also have a similar perspective on the noodle: the pasta noodle is a major part of the Mediterranean Diet with a high nutritional value according to The Truth About Pasta. Both cultures value the noodle as a reliable source of carbohydrates and protein. However, not only is the noodle important to physical health, but it is also important as a bonding tool for society. The noodles of both countries bring families together to eat and bond them with love of a dutiful cook or a loving nonna. They are the representation of cultural values such as family unity in Italy and a long, happy life in China. The noodle today ultimately brings health and happiness to billions of people around the globe.

Noodle n. a cultural artifact composed of a mixture of flour from a grain with water and sometimes eggs that can be shaped and cooked into the various shapes created by different cultures throughout its rich history.

Image result for pasta noodle



  1. “Noodles, traditionally and today”
  2. “Crossing the bridge”
  3. “Noodles Pressed and Pulled”
  4. “The Truth About Pasta”
  5. Let the Meatballs Rest

Thomas Nguyen: A Kitchen Table of Grand Proportions

My name is Thomas Nguyen, and I believe that the kitchen table is an essential part of eating food. Sure, it can be taken literally as a piece of furniture on which one eats food, but there is also another special meaning to it. Not only is it a place for eating, but it is also a place for communication and bonding over food in the family. When it comes to large families, it can be especially difficult to maintain that communication, especially when everyone is preoccupied with his or her own lives. However, the kitchen table can ultimately hold the family together as a unit. Because of this importance, I wanted to investigate how a kitchen table does that and how it ultimately becomes a key aspect of a family’s life.

I asked my friend Jennifer to help and used the anthropological methods of interview and participation-observation in accordance to Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther. Jennifer comes from a huge family of six children and eight people in the household total, so I was fascinated by how her small kitchen table could fit so many people and be the center of family activity. With these two methods, not only do I have an outsider perspective on her table, but I also had a personal insight as to how her kitchen table functions for her family. Combining these two methods would result in a full understanding of her kitchen table and its importance as the center of meals and family.

For a large family, Jennifer’s kitchen table is surprisingly small. It is a simple rectangular table near the stove with just enough room for entire family to sit. When Jennifer’s kitchen table is not in use for big meals like breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it is used as a convenient place for snacks and fresh fruits to be eaten at any time due to the various schedules of the members of her large family. However, when it is time for a big meal or celebration, the table is used as a cooking space by her mom to lay out fresh ingredients. The kitchen table is first covered in newspaper to keep it clean. The table is filled to the brim with fresh vegetables and cuts of meat as cooking for a large family requires a large amount of space. Jennifer and her siblings would come to the table to help their mom with cooking, and her youngest brother would set up the bowls and eating utensils for everyone in the family. Once the cooking is finished, everyone in the family gathers at the table to place the dishes and sit down. The dishes are placed so that they are in the center of the table for everyone to share while everyone has his or her own bowl of rice. This is the time when Jennifer’s family truly bonds. Despite everyone’s hectic schedule, they have all gathered at the kitchen table to share a delicious meal and discussed about their lives. As a participant and observer, I also personally noticed the general rapport of Jennifer’s family. During the meal, family members would share an issue that comes to mind, such as a problem at work or a future plan, and another member would immediately offer a solution and discuss the potential outcomes. The family would also joke around and share laughs over the humorous parts of their days while enjoying a delicious meal, furthering their good mood. After everyone has finished eating, the family members clean up the kitchen table and rearrange the fruits and snacks back in place for the next day, and everyone goes their separate ways to resume their busy lives.

To conclude, I have realized the importance of Jennifer’s kitchen table to her family. It is a central location and a guaranteed meeting place for everyone in the family despite their schedules. It is also a place to share a good meal when hungry, and the sharing aspect is further emphasized by the central dish that is accessible to everyone. The kitchen table is an area to catch up on life and a space for discussion and problem-solving. Most importantly, however, Jennifer’s kitchen table is a sacred space for family bonding and enjoying the wonders of life, including the rich stories of people, the delicious flavors of a meal, and the warmth of raw emotions.

Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Journal #1: Pho

Whenever someone would ask what my favorite dish is, there is always one thing comes to mind: phở, a warm and fulfilling bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup rich with carefully thin cuts of meat and fresh herbs. If one were to think about Vietnamese cuisine, phở would instantly come to mind as it is one of the most (if not the most) iconic foods of Vietnam. It is a dish that can be eaten at any time from the early hours of breakfast to the later ones of late-night cravings. In a sense, phở is the ultimate comfort food for any occasion. It is a way to bond with friends and family at any time while enjoying its full and wonderful taste. As for me, it is a reminder of my identity as a Vietnamese-American.

I was born and raised in the United States in a Vietnamese household, and while growing up, I had realized that I was in between two different cultures. Being outside of my home brought me up as an American constantly exposed to the bold flavors of American cheeseburgers and pizzas; however, being back at home would remind me of my Vietnamese roots and what authentic Vietnamese flavor really was. One of the most important ways my parents developed my palate was through simple but amazingly wonderful dish: phở. As a kid I would always know when my mom was making phở by taking in the rich aromatic scent of the broth steadily boiling in a humongous pot. My mom would call me over and ask whether I was able to smell the blend of the flavors and herbs in the broth, and sometimes she would even let me have a little taste to see whether the flavors were balanced to our satisfaction. After a long day of cooking, everyone in my family would sit down at the dinner table and enjoy every slurp of the noodle and sip of the broth while my parents would talk about how tasty Vietnamese food can be. No matter how picky of an eater someone in the family was, phở would always be enjoyed by everyone regardless of his or her palate; it was a stepping stone of sorts to Vietnamese cuisine. The beginnings of my enjoyment and appreciation for Vietnamese food are some of my fondest memories, and I am truly glad that phở has made a major contribution.

The beginnings of phở were relatively recent compared to other iconic dishes such as noodles or pasta. It first appeared in the northern region of Vietnam in the late 1800s as a simple dish of noodle soup with a few cuts of meat. Eventually, the knowledge of the dish traveled to the south as the country split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Interestingly, when the dish moved south, it was slightly modified so that it is served with crunchy mung bean sprouts and fresh herbs such as basil. Therefore, two distinct styles of phở emerged to represent the culinary preferences of each region after the country was reunified from the war. Refugees from the war brought the recipe of phở (particularly the Southern style) to other countries such as the United States when they fled. As a result, phở has become a well-known dish outside of Vietnam that anyone can enjoy.  What makes phở unique in particular is the influence of French and Chinese cooking on it. The noodles and the spices that add to the flavor came from China, but the broth preparation and the use of red meats came from France. In fact, the word phở most likely came from the French term pot-au-feu, meaning “pot on the fire.” This is representative of the cooking process in which the pot is boiled with the beef bones for several hours before it is ready. After the broth is prepared, thin cuts of sirloin are added along with the rice noodles and cooked by the boiling-hot broth as it is poured into the bowl. As a result, this hybrid of Eastern and Western cuisine has resulted in a perfect blend of flavors that people of both cultures can enjoy.


Here is a picture of a typical bowl of pho.

This is a picture of me with my mom, sister, and girlfriend.

Recipe for Southern-style phở:


5 lb of beef bones (knuckle) or oxtail bones

2 yellow onions

1 spice packet containing cinnamon, cloves, star anise, coriander, and cardamom

¼ cup of fish sauce (nước mắm)

2 lb of rice noodles

½ lb eye of round sirloin

2 scallions

1/3 cup of chopped cilantro

3 cups of mung bean sprouts

Basil for garnish

Lime cut into wedges

2 jalapeño peppers cut into slices

Hoisin sauce



  1. Boil the beef bones in a large pot with water covering the bones for about 10 minutes to boil out any impurities.
  2. Drain the bones of the water containing the impurities and refill the pot with water again to cover the bones. Boil the bones with the spice packet and one yellow onion at a gentle simmer for about 8 hours until all of the flavors from the bones and spices come out. Skim off any fat that comes up from the cooking process.
  3. Liberally add fish sauce to season the broth with saltiness until the flavor is to your satisfaction. Constantly taste-test to check the balance of flavor.
  4. Cut the sirloin steak against the grain into thin slices. The thinner they are, the faster they will cook when the broth is poured over it.
  5. Chop a yellow onion and all the scallions into slices to be added to the bowls.
  6. When it is time to eat, prepare the bowls of pho with the desired amount of rice noodles along with a liberal amount of mung bean sprouts, onion, and scallions.
  7. Add the desired amount of sirloin slices into the bowl and ladle the hot broth into the bowl. It should cook the slices in a few seconds as it turns from red to a well-done gray-brown.
  8. Add cilantro, basil, and jalapeño pepper slices to garnish the phở along with the desired amount of Hoisin sauce, Sriracha, and squeezed lime wedges to season it to satisfaction.