Let's make pho Vietnam's ambassador

November 15, 2023 | 03:36 pm PT
Doan Van Binh Member of Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board
I have visited dozens of countries to learn about the world business situation after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every country I've gone to, I always looked for Vietnamese restaurants to eat pho, not only to enjoy familiar dishes, but also to support Vietnamese people, to feel like I was at home, and to observe how Vietnamese people do business abroad. I've discovered with joy that on this Earth, wherever there are Vietnamese people, there is pho. Pho shops and Vietnamese restaurants are still crowded despite the blow of Covid, and they are attracting more Western customers.

Pho has become the unofficial "global ambassador" of Vietnamese cuisine.

Many of my foreign friends and partners say that they had eaten pho before coming to Vietnam.

Pho is so attractive that I know a number of Vietnamese restaurants in Scotland (U.K.), Vilnius (Lithuania), Wellington (New Zealand) or many other places, where neither the owners nor the waiters are Vietnamese. They either buy a Vietnamese store and continue to sell pho, or they used to work and live in Vietnam, like to eat pho, and wanted to start a business with this product.

Pho restaurants in San Francisco, Boston, Sydney, Paris and many other restaurants I stopped at were full of Western customers. They clumsily held chopsticks like children.

Pho and chopsticks are Vietnamese culture, Asian culture passed down for thousands of years. Nowadays, Westerners are using them more and more, and people of Vietnamese origin are earning more money from their Western customers.

There are no official statistics, but I believe that pho contributes significantly to the remittance flow worth nearly US$20 billion to Vietnam each year.

Bowls of beef pho served at a restaurant in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

Bowls of beef pho served at a restaurant in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

In Vietnam, the price of a bowl of pho ranges from VND30,000 - 65,000 ($1.23-2.67). In 2006, I enjoyed a bowl of pho in District 13, Paris for 10 Euros ($10.80). In 2022, returning here after 16 years and after Covid-19 and inflation, escalating prices caused a bowl of pho to increase to 15 Euros.

Pho in the U.S. and Europe usually comes in medium and large sizes. There is a restaurant that calls the big bowl the "XL." An XL costs 10-20% more than a normal bowl. Western pho in Riga (Latvia) converts "size" into "liters." A small bowl is equivalent to "half a liter," a large bowl is equivalent to "1 liter," so customers can easily calculate how much they take in.

Pho is really close to Vietnamese people and has followed Vietnamese people throughout five continents and four seas.

When we talk about pho, we think of Vietnam. Thanks to pho, the cultural ties between Vietnam and other countries are enhanced and strengthened. Thanks to pho, Vietnam has expanded opportunities for cultural exchange and familiarization on a global level.

Vietnam's culture and tourism industry should give pho a title it deserves, to spread Vietnamese cuisine and culture more to the world.

Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is promoting a "durian diplomacy" policy, similar to how China conducts "panda diplomacy" and Japan and South Korea increase "soft power" through movies and pop culture.

If pho officially becomes the "global ambassador" of Vietnamese cuisine, it will be an opportunity to convey a strong message about attractive Vietnamese tourism through cuisine.

Pho represents thousands of years of wet rice agricultural culture. Through "Pho Ambassador" we will tell the story of Vietnamese rice - the second largest export product globally.

Ambassadors' main roles are to connect Vietnam with the world; doing economic diplomacy (earning money for the country); connecting overseas Vietnamese; helping foreigners understand more about Vietnam and support Vietnam. "Pho Ambassador" can perform all those functions.

Many people may think that pho as a culinary product seems small compared to trade agreements. However, when deployed on a global scale, pho's commercial value will be enormous. In particular, the love for pho is a vivid expression, proof of Vietnam's culinary success.

We can help pho go global, telling exquisite stories about Vietnam to international tourists, which is also a way to attract tourists to Vietnam.

*Doan Van Binh is vice chairman of the Vietnam Real Estate Association and member of the Tourism Advisory Board

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