A few weeks ago, I had a friend over for the weekend and we went to a
store here in the Seattle area called Central Market. I saw a box of
noodles that caught my eye, and decided to write down their website. I
ended up talking to Thao Nguyen, a Ph.D., chef, and co-founder of Star
Anise Foods. Here’s the interview I conducted via email with her.
THE RAMEN RATER> Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
STAR ANISE FOODS> Thank you Hans for the opportunity!
TRR> To start, can you tell my readers about the history of Star Anise Foods?
SAF> Star Anise Foods was founded by Karen Cheng and myself, using my family recipe that were handed down from generations. We strive to bring to the table a product that is original in flavor, with high nutritional value.
TRR> What was the first product you made?
SAF> It was our line of HAPPY PHO.
TRR> Your company is located in San Francisco, yet you make a product whose roots are in Vietnam. How have the two distant locales influenced your products?
SAF> I’m a third generation Pho noodle seller – my grandparents started their pho stall in Nam Dinh where pho originated, then my mom had a pho noodle stall in Moscow, and now it’s me. San Francisco influenced the innovation aspect of our line.
TRR> Can you tell us about the varieties of pho noodles you make?
SAF> Our line is divided in 3 main categories: our “Happy Pho” is our Vietnamese brown rice noodle soup, which comes in garlic goodness, zesty ginger and shitake mushroom. Our Brown rice Noodles with organic green tea and seaweed. And our newest addition: the Brown rice Spring roll
wrapper which is the only brown rice wrapper in the world.
TRR> Here in the Seattle area, pho restaurants are everywhere. How are your products received by those in locations with smaller or nonexistent Vietnamese populations?
SAF> Pho is essentially Vietnamese rice noodles, herbs in a hearty French Provençal beef broth with fragrant Vietnamese spices. And it’s gluten free. So the appeal is universal. Many of my friends who live in the US or Europe have not had Pho ever, but adore it when they first have it. Vietnamese cuisine, according to the Specialty Food Association Mintel – Global Market Research, is one of the top five most popular cuisines (out of 15 ranked) and continues to rise. Currently 21%
of grocery retailers believe that this type of cuisine will be increasingly popular.
TRR> In what countries are your products available?
SAF> So far we are available only in the US.
TRR> How does the preparation of your product compare to that of traditional pho?
SAF> It is faster without compromising on the taste or the authenticity. I use the spice mix myself. Also it’s healthier as the noodles are made from brown rice.
TRR> How does your noodle making process differ from other instant noodle manufacturers?
SAF> I adore instant noodles and ramen – it tastes so good. But I often feel soooo bad afterwards. I don’t eat instant noodles anymore, as I learnt now that it doesn’t have to be that way. Our line of Star Anise Foods products are just as quick to make, but you feel good afterwards as the ingredients are simple and wholesome. We also use premium ingredients and as a result do not need to add a lot of different flavor enhancers and salt to create the taste. Our manufacturing facility only deals with rice flour – most instant noodles are wheat-based.
TRR> Are instant noodles the only products you make?
SAF> We make the world’s only brown rice spring roll wrapper, and a line of Vietnamese brown rice noodles with green tea and with seaweed.
TRR> A lot of people are concerned with their sodium intake. How would you recommend people enjoy your product as part of a healthy meal?
SAF> Our products all have very low sodium – 105mgs per serving which is only 5% of your daily recommended sodium intake. I normally add a lot of spinach and other veggies to make it more of a full meal. And I add a little bit of salt too. But if you don’t want salt at all – use a lot of lime to add flavor. And sriracha hot sauce.
TRR> Are you involved in in your local community or participate in charities?
SAF> Yes, I’m working on a project that provides mentoring for women entrepreneurs in developing countries.
TRR> Are there any new products coming soon?
TRR> When you make noodles for yourself, what do you like to add to them to make them extra special?
SAF> I sautee garlic in oil, then add thinly sliced beef or tofu and quickly sautee them. Then I add these on top of the Pho soup. Hanoi style. And of course, a copious amount of sriracha hot sauce.
If you like our facebook page Star Anise Foods – you’ll find my favorite recipes there. I share them often.
TRR> Thank you very much for this opportunity to learn about Star Anise
Foods and your products!
SAF> Thank you!!!
There you have it! Thanks go to Thao Nguyen, Ph.D. for giving us all some great info on Star Anise Foods and sending sample to review!