Most people equate the month of February with love because of Valentine’s Day. But Yelp just gave us a new reason to love the month of February — or more appropriately Phobruary. This month, Yelp Indy is celebrating all of the magical cuisine that Vietnam and its surrounding countries have to offer, including the spicy, broth-y, noodle-y, heavenly dish known as pho.
Yelp is hosting eight different events around the city throughout the month and each one will highlight different aspects of Vietnamese cuisine, from banh mis, to spring rolls to Vietnamese coffee.
When I asked Brittany Smith, Yelp Indy’s Community Director, what led her to bring Phobruary to Indy, she said, “Indy has a vibrant Vietnamese community that most are unaware of. After returning from a honeymoon in Vietnam, I thought hosting a month-long event series would offer us an opportunity to dive deeper with these businesses and hear their stories. We're hoping to go beyond pho and teach attendees about the ingredients and social and cultural motivations for the recipes.”
The events will be taking place at an array of local spots, including Chao Vietnamese Food, Pho 36, Kaffeine Coffee, Super Bowl Pho and more. The RSVP lists for all but one of the events filled up immediately given the fact that each event was constrained to a small amount of Yelpers in order to make them more personal. The event on 2/21 at Pho Real for first time Yelpers is still open.
The business-owners themselves were surprised with just how quickly the events filled up; Chris Kilander of Kaffeine Coffee, who is presenting a Vietnamese coffee 101, said “I can’t tell what this will mean for us yet. I think the event is restricted to 20 or 30 people. So it was already closed within minutes. As far as the waiting list there were 30 or 40 people waiting to get into this event.”
Just because the Phobruary events are full doesn’t mean you can’t get out and support and enjoy these businesses this month and every month, for that matter.
As Tony Nguyen of Super Bowl Pho in Westfield says, “What's important is letting people take part and engross themselves in a culture that many do not know about. It's a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about their neighbors, and appreciate everything their culture entails.”
Food is an easy entry point into most any culture. At it’s core, food is a pure look into the eyes of any culture’s soul; if you can understand the food, you can begin to understand the people. When you’re interested in an authentic look into Vietnamese culture, the food at places like Super Bowl Pho, Saigon and Chao can give you a glimpse. Tony says, of Super Bowl Pho’s cuisine, “The majority of the recipes are from Leo's own making.” Leo, Tony’s uncle, “learned how to cook from his parents (my grandparents) and of course, has his own style added to the food.
“We haven't had to 'Americanize' any food, so to speak. The food we serve is how it is traditionally made with traditional ingredients. There are just different options of what consumers would like to have in their meal.”
The Phobruary event Super Bowl Pho is hosting is a spring roll making class. Tony says the event “essentially a class on teaching our guests how to prepare the ingredients that are in a spring roll, and how to roll the roll to get the ‘it's like it was made at a restaurant’ look.”
And while they know how to make spring rolls, if you haven’t guessed from the name, it’s all about the pho. And pho, according to Brittany, is “all about the broth. The refreshing pop of flavor paired with the unavoidable runny nose shows the pho is working its magic. From a cold to a hangover, this soup offers a cure.
“I also appreciate how casually it is consumed in Vietnam all hours of the day. You can pull up a plastic seat on the sidewalk at nine in the morning for a steamy bowl of pho. No frills necessary.”
While it is a no frills dish, there is so much that goes into those tasty bowls of deliciousness. The event at Saigon on 38th Street will give Yelpers a look into the making of Pho, which will be an interesting and extensive 101. The broth itself can take upwards of 12-hours to complete, letting it simmer as all of the hearty flavors amalgamate. So when you’re slurping up those noodles, keep in mind the work that went into it and the decades people have spent perfecting the broths.
While pho is undoubtedly a central piece of Vietnamese cuisine, one that may come as a surprise is coffee. Vietnam is actually the second largest producer of coffee in the world and coffee follows almost every meal in Vietnam. Choosing Kaffeine Coffee (a coffee house that is not run by someone of Vietnamese heritage) may seem a bit strange, until you talk with Chris Kilander. Kilander has spent years doing everything he can to craft authentic coffee from countries all around the world, and he takes his coffee making very seriously.
“One thing that Kaffeine Coffee does is we concentrate on drinks from around the world. It happened to workout that we do a Vietnamese coffee with what is called a Phin brewer, it’s a typical brewer that we also sell, and it’s a traditional brewer that the Vietnamese use every morning or afternoon on the streets when they prepare Vietnamese coffee.”
Vietnamese coffee, for those who haven’t had it, is hot, strong, black coffee brewed over sweetened, condensed milk. And while you could easily do this yourself at home, Kilander makes a point that it wouldn’t be true Vietnamese coffee because the beans wouldn’t be authentic. “In some cases, some of the Vietnamese varietals of coffee aren’t still available; but our Vietnamese coffee, to have a true Vietnamese coffee, we have two specific kinds of beans.
“We use these two beans in our Vietnamese coffee and most people don’t have them in United States. One of them is called Excelsa and one of them is called Catimor. Those are two of the many varietals of coffee that go specifically into Vietnamese coffee that make a difference.
“It’s not just taking any coffee, grinding it and brewing it over sweetened-condensed milk, it’s actually taking two specific kinds of coffee that can still be found in Vietnam and using those together and that’s what makes a true Vietnamese coffee.”
This attention to cultural authenticity is what makes Kaffeine an obvious choice for this month of highlighting Vietnam. But, Vietnam isn’t the only Southeast Asian country that will have the spotlight, a relative newcomer to Indianapolis, Phan’s Kitchen is sharing cuisine from the neighboring country of Laos. Brittany explains their inclusion in this month, “Given their geography, the countries [share] several key ingredients like lemongrass, ginger and sticky rice. Laotian cuisine is currently lesser known than say, Vietnamese or Thai food. I was excited to see Phan's Kitchen recently open in the Washington Square Mall and offer Hoosiers more insight into their food and culture.”
For the businesses involved in Phobruary this is the perfect opportunity to share their products and culture with the city that they have chosen to serve. As Tony says, “What we are hoping to come from participating in Phobruary is widening our reach, and allowing for more people to learn more about our cuisine.” He follows up by saying, “My favorite part of owning a restaurant in Indy is making food that puts smiles on people’s faces. I love it when the hard work I put into preparing a dish, seeing an excited customers face when the food comes out, and then seeing as they enjoy the feast in front of them. Others enjoying my passion for food is the best part.”