noun: pho; plural noun: phos
- a type of Vietnamese soup, typically made from beef stock and spices to which noodles and thinly sliced beef or chicken are added.
Vietnamese, perhaps from French feu (as in pot-au-feu).
Asian foods, along with any number of other ethnic foods, have rapidly become my favorites, easily displacing such everyday American foods like Pizza.
Here in Las Vegas, Spring Mountain Road from just west of the 15 to about Rainbow is known as “China Town.” It should more accurately be called “Asia Town” because it seems that the entire continent is well represented. I’ve had Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and probably some other obscure foods that I can’t recall. Because there are grocery markets there, I will often stop, pick up something that I am totally clueless as to what it is, and take it home to figure out how to cook it.
Who knew that some vegetables could be poisonous unless thoroughly and correctly cooked. If you didn’t know that, you need to reread my Bat Nuts article.
About seven or so years ago I made a stop at a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Saigon 8. I was hungry, had never had Vietnamese food, and so I said what the heck. I’ll stop here.
Well, when I went in just about every patron was Vietnamese. And those who weren’t were with people who were Vietnamese. A good sign.
I opened up the menu and randomly ordered something from the list of Pho soups. I got it to go (had groceries in the car if I recall, and it was warmish), and took it home. The broth was in a quart size Styrofoam cup and the vegetables and meat in a regular container. I figured out that what I needed to do was to put everything in a big bowl and eat it.
That first whiff of that fragrant broth almost brought me to my knees. It was beautiful. I put the other ingredients into a large soup bowl and poured the broth over it. The broth was still steaming hot and cooked the raw meat – which had taken me somewhat aback – as well as heating up the rice noodles, paper-thin cooked brisket, tendon, bean sprouts, basil, peppers, cilantro, and green onions. I squeezed a little of the supplied slice of lime on the top and sat down to eat, spoon and chopsticks in hand.
I did not stop until it was gone. What I mean by that is that I ate every drop and then tipped the bowl up and drank the last of the broth. Yes, I had been hungry, but not that hungry. It was that delicious.
Well, I knew that I’d found something new and wanted to get some more as often as possible. At that time there were only a few Pho restaurants in town, and all of them were on Spring Mountain. I tried each one, usually at lunch with co-workers, but none gave me that same emotional rush that I’d gotten from the Pho Saigon 8 aromas and tastes.
Over the years, I’ve become quite the Pho Queen. I have tried to go to every new Pho place in town. The only exception is the one in Treasure Island because I’m an I-don’t-go-to-the-Strip snob. I’ve tried a couple in Henderson, in the Southwest part of town, North Las Vegas, and recently, found a couple that were a little closer to home.
The one that’s closest to me, Pho Rose Restaurant at 1750 N Buffalo Drive, almost passes the Pho Saigon 8 fragrance and taste tests. I’ve been there a couple of times and the visits have been pleasant. I haven’t eaten in the restaurant yet, and that could make a very big difference.
For instance, when The Wineaux Guy™ and Bunny were in town a few months after I had discovered Pho Saigon 8, we went there for breakfast. Up until that time, I had always gotten my Pho to go.
“I’ll have a number 18, please, to go. Extra tendon.”
I’d been missing out on the aroma and flavors of the food as it was brought steaming hot out of the kitchen. I fell in love all over again. Delicious in an all new special way.
As an aside, Pho is eaten a lot for breakfast. As I discovered then, it will hold you for hours without any desire for munchies in between meals. If you have a busy day ahead of you and know you can’t stop for lunch or other meal, get Pho for breakfast.
The key to a beautiful Pho is the broth. Even if I hadn’t learned that later, it’s something I knew intuitively; the aroma was intoxicating, fragrant, and heady. It was completely unexpected because the Pho broth itself looks thin and uninteresting. As I found out later, it requires a long time and special techniques and ingredients to get it “just so.”
The typical recipes consist of beef knuckle bones, marrow bones, oxtails, yellow rock sugar, fish sauce, anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, onions, cilantro (actually an Asian type of cilantro), and lots of technique, steps, and time.
I’ve tried making Pho a couple of times. The first time was more or less a disaster. You can’t use the French technique of roasting bones for this dish. It won’t work. Not even a little.
The second time I made it, it was far more successful. But it was a lot of work and didn’t taste any better than what I’d been getting from the restaurants.
I will continue to try out various Pho restaurants and recipes, but I feel that I’ve found my Pho home. I still like doing takeout because there’s nothing like curling up with a steaming bowl of Pho and a glass of Pinot. This is truly one of the best culinary discoveries I’ve ever made.
Comfort food, Asian style.