ORLANDO – If there’s a passion out there for international foods, that’s a wave that Ha Roda hopes to ride.
Also known as the Pho Queen, Roda has been specializing in teaching Americans about Vietnamese cooking for several years now. She uses her culinary recipes to promote healthy living through Vietnamese meals, and as her web site, www.PhoQueenCooking.com notes, “Knowledge is power.”
Roda has also been quite accessible lately, having recently taught a series of classes at the Orlando Public Library on how to make Vietnamese meals. She recently gave the final installment in the series where she talked about the sauces and condiments added to foods in her native country to impart a particular taste or flavor.
“We have a cooking series that started last year at the library,” Roda said. “We’ll be back again soon, I’m sure. I’m sure the library will invite me back.”
Attending the classes, she said, is a great opportunity for those “wanting to learn a different culture and different food,” which is why she went through a list of popular dipping sauces in Vietnam, and how they’re used to enhance the taste of a meal.
“In all the countries, we have dipping sauces,” Roda said. “It’s something that enhances the taste of the food. In Vietnam, we have dipping sauces as well. Everyone is familiar with Soy Sauce. In Vietnam, we use a lot of what call Fish Sauce.”
Fish sauce is made from fermented fish, she noted.
“How can you tell if the fish sauce is good?” Roda asked. “Once it’s fermented and the fish sauce is out in the market, one way that you can tell is when you look at the jar, you can see through – it’s like water. Then you know it’s good quality. If it’s thick, then you know that’s second quality.”
But if the jar is clear, “It will last for a long time. It’s already been fermented,” she said.
The discussion about condiments was a prelude to helping the guests at the library make Spring Rolls, which she said are appetizing and easy to make.
Roda was born and raised in Saigon, Vietnam, and left that country to come to the United States in the late 1970s, a few years after the Vietnam War ended.
“I came here in 1978,” Roda said. “We were known as the Boat People, but that’s another story.”
Between 1975 and 1980, after 16 years of devastating war, more than one million refugees fled the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded boats. They were later dubbed the “boat people.”
Those who survived often spent years in refugee camps, while the luckiest ones were taken in by nations like Canada.
Roda was among the lucky ones. She not only made it to the United States, but also found success as a computer graphics major, moving on to a thriving career in that field.
She also discovered that the United States truly was a nation of opportunity. Continuously intrigued by cooking and food, Roda eventually decided to quit her job and “do something else,” she said. That something else turned out to be a writer of cooking books, and the host of a Web site devoted to Vietnamese cuisine.
Even in Orlando, she said, “I’m always surrounded by Vietnamese food and culture, and decided to become a Vietnamese culture specialist.”
That’s enabled her to host a series like the one at the Orlando Public Library where she could teach about condiments like fish sauce.
“It terms of fish sauce, there’s so many ways to eat it,” Roda said. “You can eat it raw – put it in a dish and dip it with certain condiments. But just to warn you, fish sauce is very salty.”
During her presentation, Roda asked if anyone in the audience was a veteran. Several people raised their hands, and she paid tribute to their service – adding that she knows from personal experience how important it is.
“I appreciate the fact that you are here today,” she said. “Because if you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here, either. Your presence – being a part of the Navy or Army or Marines – makes a big difference to me.”
To learn more about Roda and Pho Queen Cooking, call 407-459-4843 or 1-800-826-9181, or email info@PhoQueenCooking.com.
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