Vietnam Time

5/24/2018 11:07:15 AM

A bowl of Phở or the story of Vietnamese cuisines in Nepal

(VNF) - Vo Thi Kim Cuong (aka Ut), founder and owner of the famous restaurant Pho 99 in Kathmandu, Nepal is very humble when talking about herself. She said, she doesn’t deserve the title “Culinary Ambassador”. According to Ut, she decided to launch a restaurant serving Vietnamese specialties simply because she wanted to bring the taste of homeland to her compatriots in Nepal.

Trong hình ảnh có thể có: ngoài trời

Ut's Pho 99 restaurant in Nepal. (Photo: Le Xuan)

Begin from mommy’s vendor

Ut’s hometown is Long An province in the Southwest of Vietnam. She and her three siblings grew up in Cambodia, where her mommy worked as a street vendor to raise the family.

Ut’s turning point came in the year 2005, when she met, fell in love and finally got married to Naveen Saru, a Nepalese. And Ut was the one who persuaded her husband to settle down in his home country after the two spent three months living in Nepal, since she had fell in love with the land.

“My friends kept telling me it would be better for our career if we stayed back in Cambodia, as I was working for a television station as reporter, while my husband had a job in a law firm’s office in Phnom Penh. However, I loved Nepal more. Since the beginning, I almost could felt a special bonds between me and its land and people.”

And that’s how Ut became a resident of Nepal. Initially, it took her a while to get used to the taste of local cuisines, which were completely different from Vietnamese dishes. Nepalese food is normally cooked with a lot of spices, particularly curry powder. It is neither easy for foreigners to prepare nor to take them, said Ut, noting Dal Bhat, a popular local dish: mixed rice with lentils, pickled, curry, fish, chili sauce and yoghurt.

Trong hình ảnh có thể có: 2 người, mọi người đang cười, mọi người đang ngồi và trong nhà

Ut (R) and a friend. (Photo: Pho 99)

Ut was struggling with the nostalgic feeling for Vietnamese food, as in Nepal, she could not find any place which could satisfy the foodaholic’s desire. Many people in Nepal even didn’t know where Viet nam is.

With her passion for cooking, Ut later tried to cook some Vietnamese dishes for herself and the family. Chicken noodles, fried springroll, sour crab noodles, etc., were among the first few dishes she made. Amazingly, her family showed a keen interest in these dishes, and soon became Vietnamese food fans.

Day by day, the smile which lit up each family member’s face while enjoying Viet food and the sweet childhood memories associated with the yellowish crispy baguette, creamy soya milk sold by mommy became the motivation for Ut to launch her first Vietnamese food restaurant.

Trong hình ảnh có thể có: 4 người, mọi người đang ngồi và trong nhà

Customers of Pho 99. (Photo: Le Xuan)

Ut said, the image of mom, a skinny woman sitting besides the wood-burning stove when the sun had yet to rise, to prepare the food to be sold. Four siblings were brought up by the love and hard work of mum, the woman who struggled to raise the whole family in Cambodia on her own.

Despite the heavy livelihood burden, Ut’s mom was always gentle to her children. Ut remembered, her mom never scolded or beated Ut and her three siblings.

After many years, mom’s words still echoes in her heart, “Only love has the power to change someone into a better person. Punishment using violence only makes them panicked and­­ overly defensive, like a snail shrinking into its shell.”

In her family, mom specially focused on preserving the tradition of Vietnam. Ut was able to speak 5 languages, but at home she only spoke Vietnamese and had Vietnamese food.

When she opened Saigon Pho aiming to satisfy Vietnamese living in Nepal and Vietnamese tourists to the country.

Phở and more

The restaurant is also a place where care and love are found.

Three years back, it was the shelter for 144 Vietnamese tourists who got stucked in Nepal due to the massive earthquake taking place in 2015.

After the disaster, all restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in Nepal had closed. Ut’s restaurant still kept its door open for those in need.The restaurant was where Vietnamese people could find food, shelter and communicate with their relatives; while Ut found her pleasant sense of happiness when she could gave her compatriots a helping hand.

From the humble beginning with a food stall selling phở, nowadays, Ut has become the owner of two restaurants name “Pho 99” and “Saigon Pho”. Especially, Pho 99 have four branches in the country.

Talking about the early stage of the business, Ut still remembered how hard it was to bring the taste of Vietnam to Nepal. The power line was cut for 12 hours a day, the people had no idea of where Vietnam was, neither did they know about the food.

In the winter, business was often interrupted due to the shortage of water.

Trong hình ảnh có thể có: món ăn

An authentic bowl of Phở. (Photo: Le Xuan)

“Nepal was poor and did not able to produce gas on its own, so we ought to purchase gas from India. There were some period we faced serious fuel scarcity.” She recalled.

Sometimes, Ut had to spend 5 hours queuing to get a barrel of gas for cooking. It was so tiring that once she arrived at the restaurant, she started sobbing.

Ut never thought that running a food business in Nepal could be that tough, but the idea of giving up never arose in her mind.

Her tenacity and diligence have paid off. Many Nepalese have become big fans of Pho 99, confessing that they love the dish because of not only the taste but also the healthiness. For many of them, a steamy hot bowl of pho, the succulent taste of stewed-bones stock, filled with the fragrance of herbs is consider an effective medication to get rid of cold.

“The kitchen, where filled with Vietnamese essential spices like onion, garlic, fish sauce makes us feel like home. Those scents are simply what have nurtured my love for homeland and inspired me to come up with more flavorful dishes” Ut said.

Surprisingly, all the spices, rice, noodles, onion, herbs to cook Phở are all brought from Vietnam by Ut’s relatives.

Ut always strictly follow the traditional way of cooking. She tried her best to stick to the original recipe, making sure every ingredient must be present. Coriander, spring onions, chili, garlic, cinnamon, anise, are among the must-have spices to cook an authentic bowl of phở.

“After many days backpacking at the foot of Hymalaya, our team was craving for Vietnamese food like crazy. Thanks to what we had read, in the capital city of Katmandu, there is a restaurant named Pho 99. We decided to catch a cab to the place, and ordered a special bowl of pho with beef, chicken and seafood. It was wonderful, and satisfied our craving stomach,” said a Vietnamese tourist who just came back home from Nepal.

Trong hình ảnh có thể có: mọi người đang ngồi, bàn và món ăn

Over 70 Vietnamese dishes are now available in Ut's restaurants. (Photo: Le Xuan)

The delicate taste of phở has made Pho 99 and Saigon Pho favorite dining venues for Vietnamese families in Nepal on weeekend or holiday. Besides enjoying an aromatic hot bowl of phở or other exotic dishes like broken rice with grilled pork (cơm tấm sườn bì), papaya salad (gỏi đu đủ), the restaurant is a warm gathering corner for overseas people to speak their mother tongue.

In addition to phở, Ut restaurant is offering over 70 dishes. Recently, freshly baked bread was introduced to the menu. The yellowish crispy baguette is part of her childhood memories, it was part of mommy’s vendor, which has brought her up.

From a young girl to a matured woman, from the nostalgia to a business, the Vietnamese lady has gone a long way, and she will keep making it further./. 

  ( Translated by Phi Yen )
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