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Pho restaurant in Des Moines responds to customer who complained about traditional Vietnamese dish

In an email, they complained about the wrapped raw steak in the to-go container and accused the restaurant of being “lazy”, “dangerous”, and "violating health code".

DES MOINES, Iowa — A Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Des Moines is speaking publicly and hoping to educate the community.

Manager Vy Nguyen said this is needed after a customer ordered a traditionally prepared Vietnamese dish, pho, and then harshly criticized the restaurant for how it was done.

Nguyen said over the past year and a half, they have gotten some comments that are hurtful when it comes to the food and Vietnamese culture. But, there is something about this last comment in particular that made her feel she needed to address it publicly.

She spends a lot of time managing Pho Real Kitchen and Bar, a point of pride for her and her family.

“This was the first big gig. When my mom lived in Vietnam, she had her own small, mom and pop type of café,” she said.

With their first big gig, Nguyen’s family is thrilled to have a chance to share their Vietnamese culture and food with the community, even through a tough pandemic for restaurants.

“I think we got the perfect corner. Even if you’re far away, you can see us,” said Nguyen.

Lately, Pho Real has gotten customer comments and reviews critical of how their food, especially pho, is prepared. Nguyen said they prepare and make it in a traditional Vietnamese way.

An email they got last week complained about the wrapped raw steak in the to-go container and accused the restaurant of being “lazy” and “dangerous”. It also added: “…this is disgusting and against the health code”.

Nguyen said that’s how the beef traditionally comes in pho dishes.

“I respect if you prefer it a different way, but this is how we do it,” she said, and added the steak can be cooked upon request.

Usually, she said she speaks directly to customers, like when one accused the restaurant of using frog eyeballs in the bubble tea instead of tapioca pearls.

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But this latest email, Nguyen felt the need to speak publicly.

“They said that we were lazy and that upset me a lot. I know my parents. They work 12 to 13 hours a day,” Nguyen said.

She posted a message on Facebook, educating and explaining the proper way to prepare the traditional Vietnamese dish if you order it to go.

Part of the post reads:

“Step 1: Assemble the noodles and meat together in a bowl

Step 2: Pour broth into a pot and bring it to a boil or you can just microwave it for 2-3 minutes

Step 3: Pour the broth into the bowl once it starts boiling. Pour directly over the rare steak if you want it to be well done.

In other cases, you can request for the steak to be cooked beforehand. We give you the rare steak in a separate bag so you can “cook” it yourself when you are ready to eat. The steak is not to be consumed raw. When you dine in, we pour the broth over the steak and “cook” it for you because the steak would still be tender when it’s brought out to your table.”

She also added, “There may be a certain dish that just isn't for you, but to many others it's comfort, it's mom and dad's food, it's home.”

“I think it’s just important to be open-minded and expand. Be adventurous with your palate and you’ll come across a lot of good people, good food, very interesting cultures,” Nguyen said.

She hopes the support they have received encourages others to find beauty in other cultures.

She is thankful for the encouragement from others.

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