April 26, 2007

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Pho sure
Beefy noodly Vietnamese
By Susan Reilly Ware  news@hippopress.com

Pho is phat.

It’s a cozy, inexpensive party in your mouth.

What is pho? Pho is the national dish of Vietnam. Street food. A sort of beef-noodle soup, but much more than that. Every family has its own pho recipes for dishes that maybe be eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Pho is said to be the ultimate hangover cure.

Pho is not pronounced “faux” or “foe” (although most restaurants are used to that); it is “fur” without the “r” or “fuh.”

Not like the other hugely popular noodle-and-broth dish, pad Thai, which seems to be popping up on every Chinese takeout menu because the masses are demanding it, pho is more of a layered, specialty dish wrapped in ritual and found only in authentic Vietnamese restaurants.

“We sell a lot of pho in the winter,” said Samantha Diep, owner of Pho Golden Bowl in Manchester.

Typically, pho is noodles with thin slices of rare beef and long-simmered broth. Diep says that most Vietnamese like the special pho, made with rare beef, brisket, tendon and tripe.

While there really are no wrong ingredients when it comes to pho (chicken is a very Western addition), there can be wrong ways to arrange its layers in the bowl. Each bowl of pho isn’t just ladled from a pot, but composed.

A bowl of pho is assembled like this: first in is a neat twist of rice vermicelli noodles cooked al dente. Then very thin slices of rare beef (sometimes raw) are layered, followed by thinly sliced scallions and raw onion. Hot beef broth is then ladled into the bowl, cooking the thin strips of beef ever so lightly.

The Vietnamese treat pho like it is a whole meal in a bowl. Fresh, regional ingredients are used, so it is different everywhere. Basically, pho is more of a concept than a recipe.

But don’t bother trying this at home. Pho from those who know how to make it is too good and cheap. Plus, pho broth would be a bear to make at home. It is a complex concoction of long-simmered bones, marrow, cinnamon and anise plus other exotic spices depending on the chef. It would be maddening for a home cook to try to duplicate pho from their favorite restaurant.

Popular in Vietnam for almost 100, pho is thought to be an offshoot of a French soup, feu, a leftover from when the French colonized Vietnam. On the other hand, some believe that pho was developed as an economical way to use leftover beef from Tet, the Vietnamese new year celebration.

How to eat pho
While the flavors may vary, the accompaniments and the best way to eat pho will not change. With every bowl of pho you will be served a side dish heaping with crisp bean sprouts, lime wedges, chili peppers (typically in a paste) and leaves of Thai basil or cilantro.

The timing of the addition of these ingredients to pho is much debated and a matter of personal taste.

Most add some of the bean sprouts right away, so that they soften in the hot broth. The rest are saved for the end when a little crunch is a nice addition.

Shred the Thai basil and stir in early on, then squeeze lime juice over the pho. Add sauces such as hoisin if you like and blend with chopsticks.

Now that you have prepared the pho to your liking, use the chopsticks in one hand to eat the meat and noodles, while alternately sipping broth from the spoon in the other.

Near the end, some pho-lovers kick up the last bits by adding lots of chili paste or the extra bean sprouts to switch up the texture. At this point, prepare yourself for a pho jones. It will hit you hard.


Where to pho
• Pho Golden Bowl 124 Queen City Ave., Manchester, 622-2000. A dozen different bowls of pho ($6.25-$6.75) including crab, chicken, rare beef, beef ball and vegetarian. House special is made with rare steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon and tripe ($6.50).
• Vietnam Noodle House 138 Main St., Nashua, 886-4566. More than a dozen phos (46-$6.50) including beef balls, brisket and seafood. House special pho is made with rare steak, brisket, tendon and tripe ($6.50).


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