The Meaning of Pho

How I discovered delicious Vietnamese pho.

When I entered dental school at Temple University, pretty much right off the Connecticut farm, I noticed that Philadelphians stay to their neighborhoods. Here was a beautiful city with so many different cultural areas and nationalities with ill-defined boarders and boundaries that were nary crossed by true Philadelphians. They were born, raised, went to school, returned, and then raised their families in the same neighborhood. This intrigued me, mostly because I knew that there had to be some great food gems that weren’t being utilized. This was well before the dawn of the internet, GPS, and food blogging.

One day I noticed a group of Vietnamese students coming back from lunch. They all had toothpicks protruding from their lips and had an odd smell about them. I asked what they had for lunch and they said something along the lines of “fuh”. They thought that I wouldn’t like it, but they would take me anyway the next time they went. Two days later they told me that they were going. We drove less than a mile from the school and entered what looked like an empty storefront in a strip mall. It was a huge room with little décor, large rectangular tables, plastic chairs, and people of all ages (all Vietnamese) bent over these tremendous bowls of what looked like noodle soup. I let them order for me, and before I could blink there was a huge steaming bowl of Pho, beef noodle soup put in front of me. This stuff is brought to the table so hot that the raw beef is cooked in the broth as it sits. There was a small dish of condiments including basil, jalapeños, lime, and bean sprouts. You can adjust the flavor of the broth by adding pepper sauce or plum sauce. Then you slurp away. Besides being the most delicious lunch ever it was also the cheapest at $3.95. By going a little bit out of my comfort zone I was able to score a fantastic lunch at a great price.

The same happens in my dental office. We are getting inquiries from as far away as New York because of the internet. Patients are finally realizing that if they travel a little bit further they can get great dentistry at great prices. To put this in perspective: we recently placed a dental implant in a patient who was quoted $6000 by her New York City dentist, we were able to complete the same procedure for $1800. At first she was hesitant because an implant requires at least two visits to complete, which would mean two trips of 100 miles each way. When I figured out that the six hours of her time was worth $4200, or $700 per hour, she jumped at the chance. Locally we get the same scenario, but patients only need to travel minutes, not hours, to get the best dentistry at the best prices. Dental pricing is based on the local market, which varies from town to town. Right up the street we have a higher average income area that forces the prices of dentistry to be 50% -150% higher than our office three miles down the road.

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