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.