The New Noodle Obsession?
I love the delicious Vietnamese noodle soup called "pho." It seems to be catching on as a trendy food in the U.S. Are you familiar with it? Is it healthy?
Yes, I am familiar with "pho" and with Vietnamese cuisine. Pho is generally nutritious and low in fat -- rice noodles swim in a clear broth, while meats, tofu, or vegetables float on top, and bean sprouts, fresh basil, lime, and chile sauce can be added for texture and flavor. If you're eating this soup often, I suggest eating al dente noodles made with either high-protein, high-semolina wheat flour, buckwheat, or whole wheat. I'm not sure that any of these noodles would be available in Vietnamese restaurants, but if you're enthusiastic enough about pho to learn how to make it at home, try to use the noodles I've recommended.
One of the advantages of Asian noodles in general, and the Vietnamese versions in particular, is that they're usually served with a minimum of oils and fats -- unlike Western noodles which are often smothered with cheeses and fattening sauces.
I love Vietnamese cuisine as a whole. I think it is also one of the most appealing and sophisticated of Asian cuisines. It's heavily influenced by French cooking, because Vietnam was under French colonial rule for nearly a century. Vietnamese cooking bears the imprint of the Chinese who also played a major role in the country's history. Today, Vietnam is the only Southeast Asian country where people still eat with chopsticks.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Vietnamese cuisine is the use of wonderful flavorings, such as lemongrass, mint, coriander (cilantro), ginger, lime, and a heavy emphasis on salad greens. Even the spring rolls (one version is fried -- stick with the unfried ones) come with greens intended for wrapping around the rolls. Sprigs of fresh mint or cilantro often accompany cooked foods, not as decoration but to be eaten as flavor enhancers.
Vietnamese cooking also features a flavoring sauce called "Nuoc mam," made from fermented salted fish and spices. Some find this an acquired taste, but since it is very high in salt, you may be better off not using it.
Another healthy aspect of Vietnamese cuisine is an emphasis on fish which, along with rice, is perhaps the most important part of the daily diet. I agree with you that Vietnamese food is becoming more available and popular in this country. As far as nutrition and good eating are concerned, it is certainly a welcome trend.