Pho and Dumplings: Embarking on a Food Adventure

Any trouble taken is well spent if it inspires an early interest in that life-long adventure open to all: food and its cooking. No child is too young to enrol on this course.

– from Molly Keane’s Book of Nursery Cooking and Childhood Reflections

On Sunday we ate pho in the sunshine at Marrickville Markets. Ambling past tangles of brightly coloured food stalls selling every delectable goodness from masala chai to freshly baked bagels, we finally settled on pho (that steaming, spice fragrant, herb fresh, lemony beef noodle soup from Vietnam). The pho we ate was not just any pho – it was an outstanding, gold star exemplar of this dish from a stall quirkily named Eat Fuh. I chatted to the friendly young man serving this pho/ fuh and he explained to me that the secret of their super seductive broth is in the roasting of the spices.

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We can’t wait to delve into our huge cups of melt in the mouth rare beef, rice noodles and savoury broth topped with crunchy bean sprouts, (optional chilly) and sprigs of Vietnamese mint. When I say we, I mean two grandparents and a hungry toddler. Our grandson Louis loves pho. He eats it with relish and abandon – scooping up handfuls of noodles and slices of beef and stuffing them into his mouth. He slurps the broth joyously straight from the cup. He is in pho paradise.

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Watching Louis devour pho made me think about what we feed our toddlers and young children. Some parents are happy to take their children on a romp through exotic and unconventional flavours but many parents are afraid to stray outside a safe but boring repertoire of bland, “child friendly” dishes. My own children ate at the tables of two sets of grandparents who served satays, sausages, sambals, fried noodles, Indian breads, baked dinners, Eurasian stews, corned beef, mixed grills, casseroles and curries – a medley of dishes from a jumble of cultural backgrounds (Indian, Malaysian, Portuguese Eurasian and Anglo Australian). Now they feed their young children from a huge and exciting smorgasbord in multicultural Australia.

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So Louis eats phenomenal pho (from Eat Fuh) in the sunshine at Marrickville Markets and Mila (our four year old) granddaughter demands Chinese pork dumplings with kangkung (Asian water spinach) stir fried with garlic and soy sauce for dinner. She sits on the kitchen bench, as the meal is being cooked, and passes ingredients to her mother. Her baby brother Arlo eats his dumplings, rice and kangkung, finely minced, and yells loudly for more between each mouthful. Our grandchildren, like thousands of little Australians, have embarked exuberantly on a food adventure that will take them to astonishing, strange and wonderful places for the rest of their lives.

© Anita Patel, 2015

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