After the fall of Saigon in 1974, tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens who had worked with the American forces were evacuated, flown to the US. It was the least we could do for them. But most had no place to go. We couldn't have refugees wandering the streets, so they were herded into Camp Pendleton, Calif., until they could be settled elsewhere. California's governor (then, as now, Jerry Brown) put out a call for other states to help.
Washington responded. Gov. Dan Evans sent an aide, Ralph Munro, to check out the refugees. They're good people, he reported back. Doctors, professors. And by 1982 Yenvy Pham's family had opened a sandwich shop at Rainier and Jackson, serving a home-grown noodle soup called pho to the regular customers, but just on weekends. The Vietnamese had plenty of rice (for noodles), but beef cattle were used to pull ploughs, not make stock. The French colonizers changed that, and pho, made from beef stock and spices, was born.
Today, no surprise, Seattle is home to the third-largest Vietnamese community in the nation, Vietnamese is the most-widely spoken foreign language in the city, and there are more pho parlors than Starbucks. Or pizza places, for that matter.
"Our town was made for soup," writes Tan Vinh in today's Seattle Times. In the same pages, Rebekah Denn offers a recipe for quick chicken pho. Not so easy is reproducing the Vietnmese character for the horn-and-hook letter o. The diacriticals that mean you say fuh, not foe.
Photo: Oxtail pho at Ba Bar.