Mr. Cao and his Pho

My mom is a chatterbox. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes…it’s not so good. This was one of the many times where it was a superb thing. Today, my family and I went to Viet’s Aroma, a local Vietnamese restaurant in Frederick, MD. While I got a chicken-based dish, the rest of my family got “one large S1 and 2 small S1,” or pho.


As you can see in the picture, Pho is a Vietnamese soup with a lot of different ingredients to it including rice noodles, beef, bean sprouts, and cilantro. There are many variations of pho including meatball pho (yes, that’s something I saw from the menu). What my family usually orders is what Viet’s Aroma calls their “Pho Special,” or pho with eye-round steak, well-done brisket, fat brisket, soft tendon, and tripe.

pho label


Let’s back up for a minute. I guess I never really explained why my mom’s extrovert personality was an exceptionally superb trait today. Well the owner of the restaurant, Tony Cao, came by to ask us how we were doing. Of course, my mom used her powers to basically tell us his life story. Among those stories was the authenticity of his restaurant. At this point, I was already on my phone taking notes.

Mr. Tony Cao was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and moved to the United States after the war when he was four years-old. Many Viets left Vietnam and started immigrating to the US in the 1970s to escape the Communist rule and harsh economic conditions. Then when they arrived, little pho shops started popping up. At first many turned to the Chinese markets for ingredients but soon, they were able to get their own ingredients. Soon after, the pho business took off. Vietnams introduced the dish to their American friends and American soldiers who were stationed at Vietnam also introduced their friends and family to the dish. And thus, the Americanization of the dish took off as well.

Like I mentioned before, the pho we ordered was made up of eye-round steak, well-done brisket, fat brisket, soften tendon, tripe, rice noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, etc.

In this recipe from Serious Eats, it uses:

  • 2 large onions, split in half
  • 1 large hand ginger
  • 3 pounds beef shin, with meat attached
  • 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch thick slices
  • 1 pound boneless beef chuck
  • 1 pound beef brisket
  • 3 whole star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (preferably yellow rock sugar)
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 to 8 servings pho noodles
  • 1 pound beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
  • 2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
  • 2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions
  • Thinly sliced Thai chilis
  • 2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
  • Hoisin sauce and Sriracha

According to Mr. Cao, a traditional, more authentic pho is supposed to have pig knuckles and pig blood. He would like to bring as much authenticity to his food, but “Frederick is not ready for it yet.” It’s true. Frederick is not ready for it and America, in general, is not ready for it. That’s why we have these Americanized Asian dishes. As a restaurant owner, he is passionate about giving his customers a Vietnamese experience. But to be a successful businessman, he also needs to cater to the market. And his market is America.

“There is a certain flavor that we have but only we have it,” he mentioned.

When you grow up eating these foods, it’s delicious to you. But to those who grew up and developed a different eating palate, it might not be delicious to them. Therefore, he needed to adapt to the culture of wherever his restaurant is. Mr. Cao hopes that he’ll be able to serve real, authentic pho in the future, but right now, he’s very happy with how his customers are enjoying his pho.

Thanks, Mom, for knowing how to talk to people. You made this blog post a lot easier to write 🙂


One thought on “Mr. Cao and his Pho

  1. Pingback: Vietnamese Chicken Coconut and Curry | My "Take-out" on America's Asian Cuisine

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