After seven years living in Ho Chi Minh City, pho has become a comfort dish for American Brandon Hurley, who also goes by the Vietnamese name Phúc Mập.
Originating in northern Vietnam, pho is a noodle dish served with hot broth cooked from beef or chicken.
Hurley knows many good pho restaurants in the city he lives in, and is able to tell the difference between pho in northern and southern styles, running a series called 'Phở Real' on his Phúc Mập Vlog YouTuber channel with more than 437,000 subscribers.
“Phở Real is actually a play on words,” Hurley said. “It means ‘for real,’ or a ‘down-to-earth’ conversation.”
In this series, the 33-year-old invites local and expat content creators to go and eat pho with him at the restaurants he recommends, and chat about their life in Vietnam with a steaming bowl of pho in front of them.
In the series’ fifth episode, which is the latest published early this month, Hurley hung out with filmmaker Dylan John Dickerson for a bowl of pho at a restaurant near the 'backpacker area' in District 1.
Ordering two bowls of pho tai (rare beef pho), the two sat down and talked about what it was like to live in Vietnam.
Dickerson recalled the best pho he had ever tried was at a sidewalk stall in Hanoi before a restaurant staff arrived with two bowls of pho tai and a glass of tra da (iced tea).
Hurley showed his knowledge about pho by asking the staff if the pho was served in the northern or southern style.
He then went on to explain to Dickerson the difference between the two styles, with the southern pho being a bit sweeter and served with more herbs than the soup in the north.
The two then recounted their favorite experience while traveling around Vietnam and how their life was during the extended social distancing period before October to curb COVID-19 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Many fans have flocked to praise the two for their knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine as well as recommend more nice pho spots for Hurley to try.
“Phở Real serves as an opportunity for me to try a variety of pho restaurants around Saigon because every episode features a different location,” he said, referring to the old but still popular name of the city.
“I've noticed a decent portion of my views are coming from an international audience.
“I hope that the series will grow into something much bigger, and when Vietnam opens up for tourism again, people can use the episodes as a sort of food tour to explore the pho of the city.”
|A screenshot shows Brandon Hurley and Dylan John Dickerson in an episode of ‘Pho Real.'|
Hurley said his Vietnamese wife's family is from the northern part of Vietnam but she was actually born in the south so he has had the opportunity to experience both cuisines.
“While I enjoy many dishes from both, I prefer the southern-style pho,” he admitted.
“This is possibly due to my bias of ‘growing up’ in the southern region.”
'A heartwarming comfort food'
Hurley came from Orlando, Florida, which has a very large Vietnamese community.
“I didn't know much about Vietnamese cuisine up until 2014 when I made the decision to move to Vietnam,” he recalled.
“This decision led me to explore the various Vietnamese restaurants in Orlando.
“The first word that came to mind when I started tasting Vietnamese cuisine was fresh.”
According to Hurley, pho is “a heartwarming comfort food of Vietnam.”
“Every time I go back to the U.S. to visit my family, pho is the first dish I eat when I return to Vietnam,” he said.
“I can vividly remember the first trip home in 2015 which was a three-month trip, and when I came back to Vietnam, I walked into my local pho spot and felt right at home.”
Meanwhile, for Vietnamese people, pho is a dish to be proud of, Hurley added.
“I'm fully aware that not all Vietnamese think pho is the most delicious dish in this country, but I also believe that Vietnamese should have pride in knowing that a lot of the world associates this wonderful dish with Vietnam in a positive way.”
One thing he is certain about is that pho is becoming more and more popular every year.
“Japan has sushi, Mexico has tacos, and Vietnam has pho,” he compared.
“It is a great representation of Vietnam in the international food scene.
“As simple as it sounds, food is a great way to 'show off' your country to citizens of the world that may not know much about Vietnam.
“For example, someone may not know anything about Vietnam, but when they get the chance to try a mouthwatering bowl of pho for the first time, they may develop a positive attitude about Vietnam simply from trying an iconic dish from this country.”
|Brandon Hurley wears 'ao ba ba' (the traditional shirt of the southern Vietnamese people) and speaks at 'Day of Pho,' an event celebrating 'pho' organized by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on December 12, 2021. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Hurley’s love for pho and Vietnam even led him to a vlog shot during a trip back home in which he went out and interviewed the strangers he met in in Orlando to see if they knew anything about Vietnam.
While many people said that their favorite Vietnamese food was pho, someone asked Hurley how to pronounce the word 'pho' correctly, which made him so proud, and to teach them how to pronounce the dish in Vietnamese.