Pho (pronounced “fuh” and not “pho” as in phobic) is one of my personal favorites, and I have the Vietnamese to thank for it. It makes my inner food goddess not just smile but grin from ear to ear like an idiot. Today is an oddly overcast, muggy day which wouldn’t ideally warrant a bowl of piping hot noodle soup but for some reason I am craving it with every bone in my body. The only thing that keeps me ensconced in my seat is the fact that the closest pho place is 15 miles away and that’s a tad too much for even me on a weekday in traffic. So I do the next best thing – I visualize it in my mind’s eye and write about it.
Now for all my culinary escapades, I’ve never attempted to make pho. The thought simply has not crossed my mind. My usual response to good food is to pay homage to it by tracking down the recipe and trying it out myself, usually with good results. With pho though, it seems like sacrilege to cook the broth myself. The entire dish – the rice noodles, the veggies and the various cuts of meat are centered around this broth which if done right, could bring a food critic to his/her knees. That in itself would be a feat given how discerning a critic’s palate is. Pho is like that dish that only tastes right if your mom makes it! No matter how hard you try, it will never taste just like it. I’d rather just drive over to soothe my cravings as and when they arise.
So let me try to describe pho for those of you that have yet to experience this adventure. Pho is a bone broth based noodle soup – the broth is simmered for hours using beef bones. A few spices may be added to give it the perfect flavor. To it are added rice noodles, maybe sliced raw onions, some herbs, cilantro and the meat of your choice. While they serve chicken or (gulp) fish pho, the real pho is made with beef. Round chuck, flank steak, tripe and tendon make up the usual components. If you eat beef, then this is a must try! It is served with a plate of herbs and sprouts. Herbs can be added to the soup, sprouts are a definite no! Just eat them. Also any sauces and other concoctions are best had on the side instead of in the soup. Why ruin a perfectly good dish!
Depending on whether it is lunch or dinner, I will opt for the small or medium bowl. The small bowl is just enough to fill you up without inducing the need to go home to a 2-hour nap! There are of course those (yes, you know who you are 😉 ) that like to nap just because and they are not a good indicator of this statistic. Unlike Chinese food, pho won’t make you hungry in a few hours. It’s a clean, healthy dish worthy of the crowds it draws during lunch hours and all day long on weekends. It is I’m told, a good remedy for a hangover too. I believe it! So while I sit here salivating, I hope some of you check your neighborhood spots upon reading this and as you slurp the noodle-y goodness, think of me…