“Oxtail. That’s beef right? I like to use meat with the bones; that’s the difference between my pho and the one at restaurants.”
My friend Sarim’s pho is by far the best, made with love.
I sat in her dining room feeling both humbled and ashamed while she cheerfully, lovingly tended to the broth that she first prepared the day before. She said she had to set the timer for midnight to continue babying the pho stock. This is a super-busy woman, devoted mother to two young children, both in Premier soccer, wife to her equally hard-working, adorable husband Michael.
Together, they share a huge extended family. I’m talking enough to fill several hotel ballrooms. Between their families and their millions of other friends, they can barely spare a moment for … well, this intimate get-together for the four of us (minus five) on a random Thursday night.
Originally, I suggested a moms’ night out. Then, it grew into a potluck hang at one of our homes when Sarim offered to make us pho.
I’m the asshole who never gave pho much of a thought. I’m a ramen girl. In the outskirts of my mind, I vaguely knew that properly making the beef-bone broth alone took an enormous about of time, just like real ramen pork-based broth did.
Sitting there, I felt undeserving of such hospitality. I didn’t slave over the stove. Sure, I brought Ina Garten’s chocolate chunk cookies as Sarim requested, and threw together Spam musubi (I could make in my sleep), but this pho was altogether another masterpiece altogether.
All this for us?
She and her family had moved into this new house just a few short years ago. I never paid attention to their talk of a housewarming. Our other soccer mom friend Meghan of M.E. Life Photography took the family photos which Sarim proudly has hanging in her living room.
I never lifted a finger to find out more about how they found the house, how I could make their new house a celebration, how they were doing, where they came from, how they came from nothing to build this warm, loving home that extended way past Washington state… why they would ever bother to include me in that family.
I just grudgingly showed up to soccer games, some practices, a few moms’ nights out at happy hour focusing on entirely the wrong things, like whether the place served crispy fries and Buffalo Wings, who else would or would not show up, who would include me in conversation, or if I should cheat that day or stay clean.
Last night, I completely focused on Sarim for a change. I watched this little spitfire buzz around the kitchen, between her simmering stock and her young daughter, Josie’s friend (Meghan’s daughter), and their dinner of pho with slices of French bread for dipping (what, really?!).
The entire time, Sarim kept up a lively chatter about soccer, the coaches, the other moms, our lives, our children. But she never really talked much about herself, and we never asked. Well, I never did, because I’m selfish and delusional; I actually fooled myself into believing I was a caring, giving individual.
I do care about her, about all of the ladies in our core Misfits group. I just get caught up in my own bullshit sometimes, most times, that I don’t really see what else is going on. I don’t really see the beauty in people who give more than they can afford — money, time, attention. I certainly couldn’t see how much Sarim has given, continues to give without complaint.
Her pho was outstanding. I felt her love with every drop. I also learned how to eat this humble Vietnamese dish after decades and decades of staring it in the face, my nose turned up in the air (because I really wanted ramen, or something French and expensive).
Sarim’s pho contained the traditional slices of beef (I had mine medium), but also slices of sausage, which I topped with green onions, bean sprouts, cilantro, and jalapeño, with a squeeze of lime.
Next time, she wants to make us this skillet dish with all the ingredients laid out for us to roll our own spring rolls, maybe a hot pot too. The next time may be in six months, or a year, but that’s okay.
I can’t wait to show her how much I do care. It isn’t much, but I’ll dust off another friend’s old lumpia recipe. I haven’t made these Shanghai style, ground-chicken lumpia in three to four years. Lumpia’s very time-consuming. It’s why Filipino moms and grandmas make them in bulk by the hundreds to freeze before needing them for a special occasion.
Lumpia’s the least I can bring.