I’ve heard of Stock way before it was falsified and misunderstood for someone else’s fault. By someone else’s fault I mean the infamous video, This Is How You Should Be Eating Pho, from Bon Appetite that disrupted the Internet and unintendedly sparked many debates about cultural appropriation. Being a Vietnamese foreigner, am I offended by the video? No. Furthermore, am I offended when Chef Tyler Akin told people not to abuse Sriracha and hoisin sauce in their pho? No. Because honestly, that’s how I always eat my pho too.
To anyone of us who hasn’t been well informed, Stock is not a restaurant specializes solely in pho. It is a small and cozy cafe that serves up various Southeast Asian foods originate from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, and more. While the menu is extremely minimal with only a handful of options, every single dish is an effort to preserve and recreate the unique flavors of that country’s cuisine. My first impression was right when we opened the door, the welcoming aroma of toasted anise immediately triggered my appetite.
Sprinkling deep fried shallots in chicken pho isn’t traditional. Is it culturally acceptable? Yes for me. In Vietnam, we sometimes put fried shallots in our miến gà. Miến gà is still a noodle soup with chicken broth. However, rice noodles are replaced with vermicelli. Instead of nitpicking over the playful addition (which I didn’t really mind since I love putting them as garnishes in a lot of things I eat anyway), I suggest everyone to carefully drink the broth and enjoy a soulful amalgam of flavors and technique. Originally from Northern Vietnam, where cooking concentrates on enhancing a singular flavor, chicken pho doesn't come with a lot of tastes at once. Guests will experience a simple sweetness from bouillon and a delicate blend of the toasted herbs.
Aside from chicken pho we also had khao poon. The broth combined green and red curries with coconut milk to smooth out any bold edge from the two strong spices. Unlike other creamy and sweet Thai green or red curries, khao poon came with a sour zest from the kaffir lime. For anyone who loves a milky yet refreshing soup, this is the one that will keep you going. It was my first time having khao poon, and will not be the last.
My biggest concern the next time I revisit Stock, though, is to think of how I should strategically consume my food. Their portion was huge. I couldn’t finish despite the fact that I came hungry for this post.
Frankly, Stock doesn't deliver that authentic taste of the native chicken pho. But how can we define authenticity when even back home, recipes vary from region to region, mother to mother. Whoever says the chefs don’t know what they’re doing, then the fool is on you. I’m glad that the cafe isn’t another seemingly perfect imitation. I’m glad it doesn’t disappoint me like countless pho restaurants around Philadelphia. Stock has its own identity and embraces it wholeheartedly.
Moreover, for someone who comes from a different ethnicity and culture, it must have taken a great amount of love and respect for Southeast Asian cuisines for Chef Tyler Akin to establish the restaurant. And for that boundless alacrity, thank you.