We have been waiting for weeks for the opening of a tiny place on Mozsár Street, to be able to finally eat a big bowl of soup. In the past few years, soup serving places opened up like mushrooms in Budapest, competing with each other to attract guests with an empty stomach. From curry chicken soup through coconut pumpkin cream soup all the way to cold gazpacho, now we can find everything, so the question remains: what makes this place so different from all the others?
The Funky Pho serves only one kind of soup, so our options are rather limited: the most frequently asked questions are: „meat or tofu?” or “can I add coriander/chili/lemon?”. On top of all this, the order of the meals are also reversed: while other places serve sandwiches after the soup, here we get summer rolls as an appetizer. But this is how it should be, because people come here to eat “pho”. We warn even the gluttonous men that they do not have to worry about leaving the place with a half-empty stomach, since the Vietnamese soup bowl equals the volume of about 4 Hungarian soup plates.
Although I was always proud of our Hungarian traditions of eating a lot of different kinds of soups, let’s face it: some other nations seem to overdo us – both regarding the size of the portion and also the frequency of the consumption. For us the soup is the starter after all, and we generally consume it in the second part of the day only. Ok, we eat it, and then we quickly forget about it, eating the main course right away with great joy. In the contrary, in Vietnam the soup is THE Soup. Huge portion, full of rice noodles, vegetables, herbs and meat. Oh, and they eat it all the time…even for breakfast!
According to a more reliable source than I am, Vietnamese cuisine – besides being one of world’s finest (in my opinion) – is also one of the healthiest. In a 2010 article, CNN ranks Vietnamese food the third healthiest after Greek and the so called “California Fresh” – which seems a little bit made up to me. Pho is especially emphasized due to its antioxidant content. Of course we do not eat it because of that, but rather for its heavenly taste – and no, it is nothing like a regular meat soup.
If we would only wanted to praise how delicious the food is at Funky Pho, then we could have just written an article for the restaurant’s blog. So after having a big meal, we looked around in the kitchen and the bathroom too.
Before the opening we already had a chance to meet the couple behind the Funky Pho, because they asked for some ‘green’ advice from us. During the meeting we had a chance to realize how much energy was invested in this idea. András and Éva have visited Vietnam on several occasions to have a closer look at the local gastronomy. Since they don’t hold a special degree in hospitality – and have very limited spare time besides their regular jobs – it took them a few years to get to the point of considering the environmental impacts of their start-up restaurant. One of the key issues was about packaging: which is the less harmful method for packaging the soup up for take-away?
Since the Funky Pho has only a couple tables, the owners thought that many people will choose to take away their soup instead of eating in. Finally the problem was solved: these guests will get a ‘cup-a-soup’. They will receive the pho and its ingredients (noodles, spices, etc) in a biodegradable bag, which are then placed in a bag made of recycled paper. This well-operating and practical system was tested before the opening, in order to evaluate the bag’s ability to keep heat and liquid. And don’t look for spoons in the pack! As an effort to minimalize waste, cutleries are not included: the owners believe that people will most likely eat their meal in their office or at home (and not in the park on a bench), where there is a high chance of finding a spoon. As these soups are quite large in quantity (at least half a liter), the owners plan to sell real Asian soup bowls to make things easier for the frequent pho-eaters.
The other big discussion topic was related to the basic ingredients. „We would like to prepare authentic Vietnamese dishes, but we wouldn’t want to fly in ingredients that we can buy locally. So we try out many things currently: for instance you are eating a high quality local coriander leaf right now – but unfortunately it is not always this good.” – András explained.
We found this attitude very impressive. We think that although trying out a variety of exotic meals can be very exciting, if foreign eateries take over the local gastronomic market, then the amount of imported products could become significantly higher. We understand the demand for authentic flavors, but we still believe that very slight differences in taste are not worth the additional food-miles. It is especially true regarding perishable products, which generally arrive by plane.
By the way, the owners import rice noodles, fish sauce and similar items, but these are not perishable, so hopefully they arrive here by ships, which is less damaging for the environment than the shipping by air.
Although many things were realized already (LED lighting, energy saving air circulation heating system), Éva and András plan to make their eatery even greener: they would like to add a sensor faucet in the bathroom, motion detector lighting, and to install the currently most environmental friendly “Airblade” hand dryer that uses 80% less energy compared to the traditional one that blows hot air. We’r also happy to announce that Funky Pho received the Sustainable Restaurant certification and joined the Heroes of Responsible Dining network!
If it’s important for you to spend your money at a place where you don’t only eat well, but the profit will be spend on environmental friendly improvements, we gladly recommend Funky Pho!
Hip-hip hooray for Katalin Hall! Thanks Kati for volunteering
to translate this article from the original!