Hoang Minh Hiep first arrived in Japan in 2005 as part of a scholarship program. Far from home, it wasn’t until his Japanese host mother cooked him a bowl of pho ga (chicken pho) that he began to feel at home in his new surroundings.

Hiep expressed his excitement about the upcoming pho festival and his plans to share it with his Japanese host mother.

According to Hiep, his host mother, Kyoko, learned how to cook pho from the internet and was able to find all the necessary ingredients at a Chinese wet market near her home in Ono City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

Hiep explained that Kyoko believed that pho would help ease his homesickness and made it for him multiple times during his stay in Japan, creating a stronger bond between them.

After finishing his studies, Hiep remained in Japan to work as an engineer at Panasonic but eventually returned to Vietnam to work as a Japanese interpreter. Despite the passing years, Hiep continues to stay in touch with Kyoko and they often enjoy pho together when he visits Japan for work.

Pho Tai in Paris, France. Photo: Dinh Thu Binh
Pho Tai in Paris, France. Photo: Dinh Thu Binh

Not quite right

French national Guillaume Astaud tried pho for the first time in Hanoi, his wife’s hometown, and immediately fell in love with the dish.

But it’s not just the aromatic broth that has Astaud hooked on Vietnam’s most famous cuisine. It’s the banh quay nong that typically accompanies a bowl of pho in northern Vietnam.

Banh quay nong is fried wheat dough formed into a stick and often served alongside pho in Vietnam. Astaud admitted that he is often disappointed when he eats pho in France because the banh quay nong there is sweeter and denser compared to the crispy and light version in Vietnam.

Astaud and his wife Dinh Thu Binh live in Montfrin, just outside Avignon, France. The pho near their home is relatively expensive and doesn’t meet their taste preferences. They only enjoy a tasty, authentic bowl of pho when they make the 700-kilometer journey to the bustling Vietnamese community in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Bringing pho to the world

Vietnam is making efforts to introduce its most popular dish to the world, and events like the Vietnam Pho Festival 2023 in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park play a part in achieving that goal.

This year’s festival is co-hosted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Saigontourist Group, and the Vietnam-Japan Friendship Association in Ho Chi Minh City. It will feature numerous chefs, including ‘Hoa Hoi Vang’ (Golden Star Anise) award winners Nguyen Tien Hai, Nguyen Tu Tin, and Pham Quang Duy.

The ‘Hoa Hoi Vang’ award is given annually at the Day of Pho event to honor pho chefs from all over Vietnam.

Participating restaurants in this year’s festival include Pho Dau, Pho Hai Thien, Hotel Majestic Saigon, Pho Phu Gia, Pho’S, Sen SASCO, Pho Ta, Binh Tay Food, Pho VGCC, and Pho Thin Bo Ho.

The event has received support from the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Japanese partners and friends such as Aoyagi Yoichiro, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives.

The festival’s sponsors include national carrier Vietnam Airlines, Suntory Beverage & Food, Southern Airports Services Joint Stock Company (SASCO), Dai-ichi Life, and Pho’S.

This year’s ambassador for the festival is Miss Intercontinental 2022 Le Nguyen Bao Ngoc.