By Anni Caporuscio
The only thing I knew about Vietnamese food was from conflict-era movies, with the soldiers at the roadside stand choking down spicy squiggling things while the cook giggles.
So I was reasonably nervous before I walked in to Pho Kapa‘a. But how surprised was I to be greeted by friends! I know Thomas Chau from his souvenir shops and his brother Kenny Ton from Kaua‘i Nail Salon! They’ve had their restaurant for 2 ½ years in Kapaa’s Safeway Shopping Center, and it is a friendly and inviting place.
Thomas greeted me and a variety of regular customers warmly and settled us down for our healthy meals. And he patiently gave me a great education into Vietnamese cuisine. Here is what I learned:
Firstly, Pho is pronounced “FUH”, not “FOE”.
Pho cuisine is one outgrowth of the French occupation of the region in the early part of the last century. It is street food and spread throughout the world when Vietnamese settlers left Vietnam.
Pho is known as a healthy body food, known for its freshness, not spice. It is most widely known for the thin broth soup with rice noodles, but Vietnamese cuisine expands from there to Com Dia, rice dishes with meat and veggies, Vermicelli, rice noodle dishes, fried rice, which is very popular, and traditional Bon Mi pork sandwiches, which are made on French bread.
What makes Pho Kapa‘a stand out as healthy food is the preparation. They use a traditional method of slow-cooking their bone broth for 24 hours. They don’t add artificial ingredients. Ninety nine percent of their vegetables are island-grown and freshly cut to order. They use actual ginseng in their broth.
“The goal is to create healthy food for the people of Kaua‘i. If you care for your product, you make sure it comes out well,” Thomas said.
Additionally, almost everything on the menu is gluten free; its rice noodles, served long and hot in the broth, or deep-fried in a salad, or rice paper around the summer rolls. For their vegetarian dishes, Pho Kapa‘a serves a vegetarian broth that is also house-made, and this, as I understand, is rare.
If you’re new to Pho, Thomas recommends Item #10 on the menu, a beef noodle soup, or #19, a vegetable broth with organic tofu. Feel free to ask questions, too. The service is friendly and inclusive and they welcome the opportunity to talk about their cuisine.
The brothers make their own bone and vegetable broths (which, if you need a healthy pick me up, you can purchase on its own) and all the sauces from scratch, based on their mother’s traditional recipes. This restaurant stands as a fond memorial to Kim Ton, who passed away in October, loved to cook, cater large meals and fostered in her sons the desire to do the same.
Pho Kapa‘a is in the Kaua‘i Shopping Village in Kapa‘a, Suite 440. They are open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. They have seasonal specials based on what’s growing on local farms.
Call 823-6868 for take out or to ask about catering.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.