Pho the first time

Camille Anglo

As an avid food lover, there are a number of things I constantly crave. Topping the list is the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, pho.

Although I remember eating pho as a kid, my love for the soup grew later in life.

Growing up in San Jose, there were pho restaurants on every block.

I grew up eating bowls and bowls of pho. It was a common dish in our family, and I remember chowing down on it with my parents.

As a very round 6-year-old who ate (or inhaled) the food placed in front of me, I ate it and never thought anything of it. To me it was just noodles with beef and soup and not a fitting replacement for a Happy Meal.

It wasn’t until years later – after I moved from San Jose to Sacramento – that I would realize how much the cravings for pho were ingrained in me. We rarely ate pho since the entire pho restaurant populace was located a good 30 minutes away from where we lived , so I completely forgot about the dish.

After about three years living in Sacramento, my family and I went on a trip to visit our hometown.

At 14 years old, the only thing that mattered to me since moving away was that I was a full-on Bay Area girl at heart and that the Bay Area radio stations were so much better than the ones in Sacramento.

Visiting San Jose meant seeing and hearing many things I had dearly missed since I had left, but hot, brothy beef noodle soup didn’t fit anywhere in that equation.

During this visit, my family and I stopped by a pho restaurant. I walked into the restaurant and took note of all the uncomfortable metal chairs with the hard cushions and the plastic table covers. It hit me that I missed this scenery.

Not knowing what to order (or how to pronounce the dishes), I ordered the same thing as my dad: a large bowl of pho with rice noodles, rare flank steak, brisket, meatballs, tripe and tendons.

When I got my order and took my first sip of that intoxicating beef broth, something woke up in me.

I don’t know whether it was that first hit of broth flowing over my taste buds, but I would liken it to something people would recognize as a “moment of clarity.” I was living my own version of a Campbell’s tomato soup commercial and I was the sick kid who was suddenly cured of her ailments from one sip of soup.

I know I ate pho many times before, but this time around it just felt so different and it felt like the first time I ate it. Maybe it’s the ties I had to the city I grew up in, but it became a frontrunner for one of my favorite foods ever.

Since then, I’ve had near-rabid cravings for pho. Whenever my parents say we’re getting pho – whether it’s at Saigon Bay Restaurant or a restaurant on Florin Road – I’m the first one to who’s ready to leave.

I don’t know what that pho restaurant in San Jose laced their broth with, but I always start to salivate at the thought of this yummy soup whenever I’m either: sick, hung over, starving or all of the above.

My moment of food clarity comes to show that sometimes, the actual first time doesn’t count. But when it really matters, it does feel like the first time.

Camille Anglo can be reached at [email protected]