Comfort food comes in many forms, but when it comes to comforting soups who would have thought that a tropical country would create the best one.
Pho* is a Vietnamese noodle soup which is a vietnamese street food that came about in the 1920s. It has many different derivations based upon regionality but generally it is a beef noodle soup with a mix of vegetables, different cuts of meat and garnishes**.
Vietnam became a French colony in the 1860’s as part of the larger colony of French Indonesia. During this time some French traditions intermingled with traditional Vietnamese and Han Chinese fare. The Oxford English Dictionary actually credits the french term Pot-au-feu as the root of the word Pho. Pot-au-fau is a classic French peasant dish of stewed beef offal***, and vegetables which really does resemble Pho.
In my opinion the key to great Pho is the broth. Generally the broth takes all day to cook as it consists of marrow bones, oxtail, flank steak, caramelized onions and other veggies, and variety of spices ranging from star anise to cardamom. I find way too often pho places use weak broth and no matter how good there rest of the ingredients are if the broth isn’t good it’s all over.
What is great about pho is that so many different things can go into it. I am a huge fan of rare beef pho, which almost thin raw strips of beef are dropped into hot soup table side and are cooked by the ambient heat of the soup in the bowl. Also pho with tripe and tendon can be very tasty as the flavour of the not so caught after meat does wonders in mixing with the flavour of the broth. I’ve also had seafood versions with fish meat balls, squid and shrimp. There are dozens of different kinds of Pho and it’s a great way to expandd your food horizons in a very familiar comforting way.
The garnishes are also very important to pho. The flavour, textures and aroma of the soup is a very personal thing. I love a spicy version of the soup with lots of chili sauce, some thai basil and a little bit of hoisin sauce for a sweet tang. Some people love to squeeze limes into the soup to give it a more sour base of flavour. It’s a very cool way to allow the eater to tailor the dish to his or her own likes and dislikes.
Overall if you have never had pho, go out this week and try it. It may be sweltering hot out but hot soup actually makes you swear which will cool you down. Enjoy!
*The pronunciation of the word Pho is one of those hotly debated things that I could give a quarter of a fuck about. I always pronounced it “FOE” while I have heard derivations of “fuh”, “fah” and the most pitied of them all “Foo”. Click here to read a quick article from a vietnamese pho enthusiast.
**Thai Basil, Lime, bean sprouts, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, etc
***Offal is a term for those parts of the animal that most people don’t want to eat. Tongue, tail, feet, brains, tripe, lung, etc