What matters to me is a bowl of pho.
Before you think I’m some crazy pho fanatic, let me explain. Growing up, I used to sit on a barstool in the kitchen, swinging my chubby legs as I recited the ingredients for my mother for a pot of pho. Sometimes, when I concentrate, I can still remember the list of ingredients I would sing out, and the memories associated with them.
Onions, ginger, star anise, cardamom: The sound of ABBA blaring from a Hello Kitty DVD player, my feet standing on top of my mother’s as she’d dance me around the kitchen.
Cloves, coriander seeds, sugar, fennel seeds, chicken: Coming home from the first day of kindergarten to the smell of pho, burning my tongue in an attempt to slurp up the broth and chatter about my new teacher.
Salt, rice noodles: Waking up at 6 in the morning on the day of my first debate tournament due to nerves, creeping downstairs to discover my mother setting a comforting bowl of pho on the table for my breakfast.
Fish sauce, hoisin sauce, sriracha sauce: The smells, sights, and sounds flavoring my memories of home.
Though it may sound strange, a bowl of pho makes me nostalgic. The memories of “helping” my mother make pho are crucial to me like these ingredients are essential to a good bowl of pho; by themselves, they sound small, even miscellaneous, but together, they complete a recipe, and, by extension, complete me.