Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy Pho Year

New Year's seems to be a time of lists--what's in, what's out. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to make a list of the world's greatest foods, this would have to be near the top--the simple Vietnamese noodle soup called pho (pronounced fuh?, like a question).

You know you are in a great pho house when you walk in the door and are transported by the aroma of star anise. The subtle broth is full of exotic spices and the essence of lots of beef bones, making it pure peasant fare. In its country of origin, pho is street food eaten any time of day, a snack that will keep your belly happy and full until tomorrow. Typically it also contains some beef parts--the less expensive kind you don't see very often in restaurants. Squeamish diners stick to thin slices of shoulder or eye of round, but I like to see mine swimming with bits of tendon and tripe and fatty brisket. On the side you'll be served a plate piled high with bean sprouts, Thai basil, sliced jalapeno and lime to add to the soup as you desire, along with squeeze bottles of sweet Hoisin and scorching Sriracha pepper sauces. We also order a small bowl of pickled onions.

The suburbs outside the District of Columbia have one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country, so there's no problem finding good pho here. At $7.25 for a large bowl (prices have gone up lately), it's hard to beat for price, which may explain why you see so many non-Vietnamese immigrants lining up for pho. I'm not naming the restaurant where we took our pho yesterday because I had the distinct impression there was less meat in it than customary. Sign of the times? But still, oh so good.

13 comments:

Vicci said...

The closest Vietnamese restaurant to us is a 50-minute drive... :(

I just discovered your blog today, as I searched for pho recipes to serve a vegetarian and her (non-vegetarian) husband and my husband and me (who don't eat red meat). Talk about a quest...

Anyway, I love your list of "Things We Try to Avoid". :)
Sounds a lot like the one I would make, except for Driving on the Beltway (3+ hours from that nightmare). And add ALL television...

You've been Bookmarked. :)

grace said...

if you won't give the name of the restaurant, can you give a clue? did you stay in the district, or did you go to VA (lots of vietnamese there) or MD?

Ed Bruske said...

Vicci, I've not heard of a vegetarian pho before. Not to say that one doesn't exist. Typically you see beef, followed by chicken. I think the Vietnamese chefs realized that Americans were a little squeamish about the strange pieces of beef floating around in the soup and that some customers would be more comfortable with the chicken. I supposed you could make a vegetarian broth using the usual spices with lots of daikon radish and onion. Perhaps some mushrooms?

Grace, we usually go to Northern Virginia for pho. It's much closer and faster for us. Sadly, there are no pho houses in the District of Columbia that we know of (they like the cheap rent in suburban strip malls), although some Vietnamese restaurants will serve it. We like the informal, no-frills, roadhouse-style atmosphere of the typical pho joint.

Rob said...

For DC Pho, I can recommend Pho Sai Gon in Chinatown. Tiny little hole in the wall on 6th St south of H St, just down from Chinatown Express.

Foodista said...

Pho is one of Vietnam's contributions to the global menu. The crisis though has definitely affected the amount of meat found in pho.

By the way, I'd like to invite you to take some time to drop by at Foodista. We have launched an online food and cooking encyclopedia ala wikipedia and we'd like you to see what the foodie community have contributed. Hope to see you join.

David Hall said...

Happy New Year Ed!

With you all of the way - keep it simple. Hope 2009 is a great one for you.

Cheers
David

Bob del Grosso said...

Happy New Year Ed
here's hoping it eats real slow.
bob

Ramona said...

New Year's Resolution..become a pho aphocianado. And, make it at home again!
Happy New Year.
Ramona

Ed Bruske said...

Rob, I've eaten in that little pho place a couple of times. It will do in a pinch--if your in that neck of the woods and hankering for pho--but I would not make a special trip. I find the pho there only average, and the atmosphere is beyond plain, even a little sad. Not that I need smiley faces on the wall to eat my pho...

Ed Bruske said...

David and Bob--best wishes to you as well. You guys always up to something very worthwhile.

Ramona, making pho is home is no easy trick. Lots of ingredients, some of which are best acquired at a Vietnamese grocery. But we will be doing it soon--great way to throw a party--and posting about it here.

maggie said...

I so miss Vietnamese food. There was a large community in Kansas City and I ate great food at least once a week. No Vietnamese here in Western NC, although there is one nice Thai restaurant. Not the same thing, I know. Now you've got me thinking I may have to make my own

Ed Bruske said...

Maggie, no problem making your own as long as you have the ingredients.

Emily said...

Vicci, I've not tried this recipe, but Vegetarian Times did feature a vegetarian pho awhile back. I'm also thinking vegetarian pho isn't all that prevalent (existent?) in Vietnam, but their interpretation might be worth a try.

http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/10463?section=