Businessman Brings Pho to Truong Sa Archipelago
|Vu Ngoc Vuong's pho (Photo: VNA)|
Vu Ngoc Vuong, who owns a pho restaurant, has always dreamt of bringing his dish to the Truong Sa islands. The dream came true when he accompanied Vietnam News Agency's working group to the island in 2013 and 2017.
To bring pho, a signature taste of the mainland to soldiers on Truong Sa (Spratly) islands, Journalist Hong Ky and businessman Ngoc Vuong overcame a long and challenging journey.
The idea started when journalist Hong Ky told his brother Ngoc Vuong about his business trip to Truong Sa. Visiting the islands to work on his photobook, Hong Ky witnessed the difficult life of soldiers there. Businessman Ngoc Vuong suggested gifting pho cooked by his restaurant to Truong Sa soldiers as a thank for their hard work.
“I remember in 2012, journalist Nguyen Hong Ky, head of the Vietnam News Agency photo department, after returning from a business trip to the Spratlys, told me stories about these islands. It is the country's sacred land, but it lacked specialties,” Vuong said.
Hong Ky then started to seek permission from the military leaders on Truong Sa to bring pho to the archipelago, while Ngoc Vuong prepared all the "technical" issues, from the preservation of ingredients to the transportation of final products.
|Vu Ngoc Vuong talking to a soldier. (Photo: VNA)|
The permission did not come easy. Hong Ky had to answered tons of questions and gather proof to earn the nod from military leaders.
Who is that businessman? What is his motto? What are his pho's ingredients? Do they violate the Ministry of Defense's regulations? Does welcoming him to the island expose military secrets? Does the gift affect soldiers' mental and physical health? If anything happens to the soldiers after they eat pho, Ky and Vuong may have to appear in court.
Every possibility must be taken into calculation. Every risk must be thought of and a corresponding solution must be addressed, leaving Ky and the military force on Truong Sa drowned deep in the work pile.
“A bowl of pho, in addition to its material value, is about the taste of the mainland, it also contains a lot of spiritual values. It is the sentiment of the mainland to Truong Sa, also a gift from citizens to soldiers who are guarding the sea and sky of the fatherland,” journalist Nguyen Hong Ky said.
As a culinary artist, Vu Ngoc Vuong was constantly concerned with a method to keep his pho quality on the long journey to reach the islands, to preserve the ingredients while being transported through the ocean.
|Vu Ngoc Vuong (Photo: Tuoi Tre)|
“Our biggest headache is to find a way to keep the freshness of food and ensure the food safety for the soldiers,” Vuong said. Noodles and broth made traditionally can only be preserved for a maximum of 24 hours.
"The only way is to try," Vuong said.
The restaurant owner started to test several recipes for "his specially made for Truong Sa" pho. After being cooked, the pho is cooled under a fan, then gently placed in large bags. However, the first batch was a failure. Undeterred, Vuong tried, again and again, finally finding the right recipe.
Hong Ky and Ngoc Vuong stepped on the ship, heading to Truong Sa islands in May 2013.
Recalling the trip, Hong Ky wrote: "The journey to bring pho to Trung Sa began at 4 am when a UAZ of the People's Navy took us through Tan Binh district. The car stopped in front of a Hanoi pho shop at 116 Hoang Hoa Tham, a small alley where many Hanoi food were sold."
|Soldiers enjoying pho. (Photo: VNA)|
"Stepping into the restaurant, we met a feast of food. 30 ingredients of different kinds have been packed and stamped with a small label saying: Vietnam News Agency - People's Navy - Pho Ngoc Vuong - A gift to Truong Sa."
The first ship carrying pho began to cross the Vung Tau seaport towards the remote rocky islands, bringing with it all the expectations, dreams, and curiosity of dozens of people.
On the night before the ship reached Truong Sa, Ngoc Vuong quickly prepared all ingredients. He made himself a small bowl of pho to test its flavor and safety.
Journalist Nguyen Hong Ky wrote: "Young soldier Nguyen Ngoc Hai Dang, a native of Dong Nai, was moved when holding a delicious pho bowl because that was the first time he had the dish. The aromatic and warm bowls of pho have heated the hearts of children far from the mainland."
After a successful trip in 2013, the two men made another trip in 2017. “By bringing pho to the South China Sea, we wish to send the love of people in the mainland to soldiers on the islands, as a way to preserve the sovereignty through culture."
Vu Ngoc Vuong was born in a family of three generations selling pho in Van Cu village (Nam Dinh province), one of the most famous localities in Vietnam for selling pho since the 1920s.
Vuong served pho for high-ranking delegations attending APEC 2006 and won a certificate of merit and an honorary medal for his contribution to the UNESCO organizations from 1993 to 2013.
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