Food Writing Contest Finalists: Penelope Duran

Please enjoy our latest finalist in the Food Writing Contest — 9th Grader Penelope Duran!

Child of the Phở Bowl

My entire life, I’ve felt different from everyone else around me as I moved from place to place as a sort of global vagabond.  There are several clichés about food and about home like home is where the heart is or the way to the heart is through the stomach.  Stir all these clichés together in a linguistic soup, and you might say home is where you have home cooking.  Perhaps for some that soup would be clam chowder or lobster bisque.  For me, I feel at home when I have a steaming bowl of phở — a favorite specialty of my mother’s birth country.

I’ve always identified myself as half-American and half-Vietnamese.  I’ve tried to maintain a balanced connection between both halves of my heritage.  The more that time passes the more difficult this becomes.

Since I was two months old I’ve traveled the world, moving from place to place every two to three years due to my father’s job as a diplomat.  Living as a global citizen has been wonderful in many ways and has introduced me to new and varied cultures.  It has also made it difficult to stay rooted to my own culture.  Since there’s been large groups of American expats both within the embassy communities where my dad has worked and outside of them, it’s always been easier to stay connected to my American side.  It’s been more difficult to stay connected to my Vietnamese side since the Vietnamese communities aren’t as numerous globally.  The main time when I feel truly connected to my Vietnamese heritage is when I visit my maternal grandparents — a Vietnamese alcove in America.

Every time we visit, my siblings and I are greeted by warm bowls of phở, a delicious noodle soup with tender beef and herbs.  I relish grandma’s phở.  During these visits, my siblings and I beg to have phở for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  More often than not, grandma obliges.

I’ve found connection with my Vietnamese heritage through cuisine.  At multiple residences, there have always been quaint Vietnamese restaurants that served my favorite food.  Even though it was not quite as authentic as grandma’s phở, the stand-ins bring back joyful memories of time spent with my grandparents.  And of course, my mother has made phở in the various kitchens of all our homes.  Mom’s phở serves as a reminder that I am in many ways my mother’s daughter — not just in appearance but also in my identity.  I will always be a child of the phở bowl.