#6 Vietnam: Onward and Upward

Vietnam has been under the boot of many, and for that, the current economic boom taking place is just that much more sweet.

There is a song in Vietnamese with a lyric that roughly translates to: "1,000 years colonized by the Chinese, 100 years colonized by the West (read French), 30 years of civil war." Yes, the Vietnamese do know something about being oppressed.

That's why the recent economic good times have been so beautiful. From 1992-2002, Vietnam lifted 50% of its population out of poverty, and that's according to the World Bank. Read that again: it didn't lift 50% of its impoverished population out of poverty, but rather lifted 50% of its total population out of poverty. That's pretty incredible.

For this meal, we needed to create something old, something new, something from a colonizer and something with great symbolism. We made pho bo for our traditional dish. This dish is popular the world over, and can be found in any corner of the country. We then made mi bo xao kho qua, or, bitter gourd stir fried with beef and noodles. This was our highly symbolic dish. The word kho qua, when translated directly is composed of the word difficulty coupled with the word to pass. Thus representing the passing of the difficulty that Vietnam experienced over the past few hundred years.

Our new dish, the dish of the nouveau riche, is bo ne. This dish is laden with fat, meat and is served as a very hearty breakfast, lunch or dinner. The word ne means to lunge in order to avoid something, in this case, the flying fat. This dish could also be called Vietnamese fajitas, if one was so inclined, only because it is served on a scalding hot iron skillet.

Then, to cap off this meal, we provided a California white wine to symbolise America's involvement in the country. It was a mixture of a wide variety of grapes, thus symbolising America's melting pot more generally. However, viz. its relation to Vietnam, it had the wonderfully sweet nose of optimism and idealism, but finished dry, almost bitter. From the nose to the finish, we figured that it covered the 21 years of involvement of the US in Vietnam, from 1954-75.

Pho Bo

This recipe was taken and adapted from this recipe.


2 onions
Ginger the size of your big toe
Beef bones
3 star anise
Pinch of clove powder
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Four or five squirts of fish sauce
A small chunk (about the size of your big toe) of rock sugar
A bag of banh pho (pho noodles)
A chunk of beef
Bean sprouts
Hot chillies
Lots of fresh lime




Parboil the beef bones. Remove cloudy water, add new water, and start to make stock. Add ginger, onions, anise, cloves, salt, sugar and fish sauce. Let simmer for 3-4 hours.

When stock is ready, prepare beef by cutting very thinly. Place pho noodles in stock for about 15 seconds. Remove and place in bowl along with stock and beef.

Serve with lime, bean sprouts and chilies.

Mi Bo Xao Kho Qua


A bitter gourd
Soy sauce
Fish sauce
Red chilies




Prepare bitter gord by slicing it in half and cutting out the white pithy core. Bitter gourd is an bizarre warty phallus of a vegetable that is generally an acquired taste (it isn't called bitter gourd for nothing). However, it is very healthful vegetable and worthy of the acquisition. Slice the gourd into quarter inch "rainbows". Heat oil in wok. Add noodles and beef. Stir. Add soy sauce, fish sauce and bitter gord. Stir. Let cook. Add red chilies. Serve.

Bo Ne




Small, iron skillet. If possible, buy the traditional skillets shaped like steers.


Heat skillet. Add oil to skillet. Then, add butter, minced garlic, beef and egg. Serve immediately. Watch as your guests "ne" out of the way.


The pho bo should have been phobulous, and would have received 4.5 globes for sure, but I (Jonathan), made a mistake. Our beef slices were too large and didn't cook through all the way. This meant that I needed to reheat it, which released too much starch from the noodles, thus creating a general mess.

Because of my negligent cooking, the pho bo only receives 1.5 globes.

The mi bo xao kho qua was quite popular, though some of us didn't like the bitterness of the gourd. For that, and in the interest of "objectivity" (whatever that could possibly mean), the dish received 3 globes.

The bo ne was definitely the most successful dish and recieved 4 full globes. It is a beautiful dish, and not one to ne too far from.

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