News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by

What the pho? Cooking video has critics steaming

A bowl of homemade Pho.
A bowl of homemade Pho.
Via Flickr user Areta Ekarafi

Listen to story

Download this story 3MB

Last week, Bon Appetit released a video titled "PSA: This is how you should be eating Pho." Chef and restaurant owner Tyler Akin, who is not of Vietnamese descent, explained his set of rules to getting the most out the soup in the two-minute video:

The internet's reaction was swift and angry. Many were outraged a non-Vietnamese chef was giving out guidelines on how to eat the culture's iconic dish. Bon Appetit has since released two apologies. The latest one, released on Saturday reads in part:

"...the video sparked a debate on the issue of cultural appropriation in food, a topic that has deservedly received ample discussion lately...As editors, we failed. And for that, we are truly sorry..."

Nguyen Tran of L.A.'s Starry Kitchen and Button Mash spoke with Deepa Fernandes on this issue from the perspective of a Vietnamese-American and a restauranteur.

Interview Highlights

Let's set the table here, for those who don't know, what is Pho?

"Pho is a Vietnamese soup that actually originated in Northern Vietnam. It's stewed overnight, it usually has beef knuckle and oxtail and other things like that and there's different variation than that. It's really light and clear and it's delicious. It's actually a breakfast food that's another thing people don't has rice noodles and the northern version has nothing but meat, noodles and the soup. But then it moved to the south where they added all the vegetables and that's where you got the cilantro and the bean sprouts and everything else. Then it came here and it adopted jalapenos which isn't indigenous to Vietnam and it's just delicious, light and just really hearty and also nourishing..."

Why did it strike such a chord in the Vietnamese community to have a non-Vietnamese chef explain how to eat this dish?

"Everything stems from the title. It was the title and the white face and "How to eat Pho." And that struck a chord with a lot of know a lot of terms I saw were 'whitesplaining' and 'Columbusing' and it hit a chord with me because when I was kid and I was about seven or eight years old...I went to a white friend's house and at one point they were like 'Hey, do you like put the bowl up to your mouth and scoop it up, like that's gross.'

So it was whitesplaining, it was...why would you put a white chef with the title 'how to eat Pho'?

"I wouldn't say that...I think it's the way they edited him. He was actually really sincere, I thought he was going to be a lot more 'Look, this is how you eat it. This is who I am. I'm the expert.' He isn't. He doesn't actually say Pho is the new ramen, it's the title. The only thing I cringe with, I actually befriended him over this because I felt really bad for him, is the twisting and twirling of the noodles and...He put that up there as an explanation of how to eat Pho if you don't know how to use chopsticks, but the way he was edited it was not put out that way. I blame, and they took the blame too, I blame Bon Appetit for editing him that way and they basically threw him under the bus."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.

Answers have been edited for clarity.

This post has been updated.