Editor’s note: The farmers’ market is held every Tuesday until mid-October, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in front of Building 549.
Clustered around a bright green trailer parked outside of Building 549, people holding numbered tickets waited for a voice at the trailer’s window to tell them their orders of banh mi, pho, and grill plates were ready. For curious passersby, two signs and a menu explained everything: “The Pham – Vietnamese Food Truck & Catering.”
The Pham is one of the newest arrivals at the NCI at Frederick Farmers’ Market, and it has quickly become a popular attraction. Even camera-toting journalists seeking an interview with the food truck’s owner, An Pham, (as well as some lunch) have to take a number.
Both are worth the wait, which, all told, is surprisingly short. On a recent market day, I sat down with my coworkers on the Building 549 patio, a Nikon D4S dangling at my hip, and prepared to dig into a grill plate less than 10 minutes after we placed our orders. I had just enough time to browse the rest of the market.
The chicken in my plate was perfectly cooked, and the roasted peanuts were just crunchy enough. But the centerpiece of the dish was the crisp, fresh cucumber and mint, which were picked from the Pham family’s garden at their Walkersville home that morning.
“[It’s] daily picked. … We wash it very nicely, very clean,” An told me after I had waited in line a second time to interview him. (He doesn’t leave the truck until he and his team have served every customer.)
The Pham’s menu, which ranges from summer rolls to Vietnamese-style tacos, is based on authentic recipes, with a few added twists. Nga, An’s wife and The Pham’s head cook, patterned some of the recipes after those she learned from her parents and grandparents while growing up in North Vietnam. Others come from newer favorites that she serves at the family’s dinner table.
“That’s how we started thinking about opening the business,” An said. “We want to extend [the cooking] to the community.”
An and Nga opened The Pham in August 2018 and joined the NCI at Frederick Farmers’ Market this spring after hearing about it from an internal contact. They’ve quickly taken a place among the other small businesses that participate.
An left his previous job to establish the food truck, which he says has given him more flexibility to challenge himself and express his creativity.
“I love to own my own business. I love to run [it], I love to design, I love to take risks. It’s a thrill, it’s a plan, it’s strategy. And I love to be part of the community development,” he said.
Nga is both a nurse and a cook. During The Pham’s spring-to-fall season, her employer allows her to take an extended leave of absence to help An with the business. She returns to nursing after The Pham closes for the winter. She isn’t a formally trained chef, but that doesn’t concern her husband.
“I call her ‘chef’ because I think she has enough knowledge and experience, and her recipes are good enough,” An said. “It’s not easy to have that menu … and know how to cook it very well in a short period of time.”
An and Nga aspire to one day open a Vietnamese restaurant in or near Frederick. The Pham is their first step toward that goal, giving them a lower-risk chance to gain experience in the culinary world.
The duo plans to continue participating in the NCI at Frederick market for the remainder of the 2019 season and, they hope, future seasons.
“We intend to stay here for the long term,” An said.