The world is a cold, vile, miserable place. We are constantly beset by wars and rumours of wars, the wafting winds of pestilence and the spindly, ashen spectre of famine. A shrieking and squawking media provides the soundtrack to an eternity of woe. Many of us take succour whatever we can — drink, drugs, religion, s-x. I shield myself from the slow collapse of all things with a steaming bowl of pho.

Pho, for those of you unfamiliar with this prince of soups, is a form of Vietnamese beef broth. Simmered over many hours, the soup commonly contains spices such as fennel, cardamon, coriander and cinnamon. Served with rice noodles, chili and bean sprouts, one can take their pick of many meaty additions, including beef, chicken, shrimp and pork, cut and sliced in many different ways.

The description of what comprises the soup cannot, and does not, do justice to the warming, soothing majesty of this dish. From one’s first sip, a good pho will transport you to a place of comfort and slightly fuzzy calm. It may just dislodge memories of childhood happinesses. Adding chili gives it a delightfully zingy kick, a gastronomical cue to tilt one’s hat at a cocky angle and compliment a Pretty Young Thing in a rakish manner. It will fill you up, and the wellbeing it inspires will carry you through an entire afternoon of workaday drudgery.

One can get pho, and good pho, in those suburbs heavily populated by Vietnamese migrants across the nation. As an inhabitant of Melbourne’s western suburbs, I swear by Pho Hung Vuong Saigon (128 Hopkins Street, Footscray), a cash-only, canteen-style restaurant that often has a line snaking out the door. The service is perfunctory, the place loud and cramped, but the pho is magnificent. Damn cheap, too — $9.50 will get you a large bowl and I’m telling you, a stout fellow like myself has trouble finishing one.

So, when the horrors of this cold, dark world get your down and you feel like you can’t go on — or at least, not without a bite to eat — consider pho as a lunchtime proposition. I guarantee it is not one you will regret.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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