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Condiments for and Preparation of Pho


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for pho fanatics:

i've been to pho houses in which the only herb you're given is basil, and to ones in which you're instead given cilantro, and also to places that give you both. is there some sort of regional or traditional variation at work here? or is this a case of things changing as pho leaves vietnam and comes to the u.s?

furthermore, at the vietnamese restaurant we had dinner in last night there was a bit of a commotion when the young woman at the table next to ours asked the waiter for plum sauce to go with her pho. he recoiled in horror and said that plum sauce would not go well with pho. due to a language barrier (he's vietnamese, she's a young anglo-american) it wasn't clear for a while as to whether he thought he was being asked his opinion on compatability or refusing to bring the offending plum sauce. since i'd overheard her complaining to her companion that she'd mistakenly laced her broth with too much hot sauce i attempted to intervene and suggested she amend matters with the provided hoisin sauce instead. at this point she informed us all (much to the waiter's consternation) that in d.c she was used to eating pho with plum sauce. eventually, a more english-fluent member of the staff was summoned, some plum sauce was procured and everyone, except possibly the original waiter, was happy.

now, i'm no authority on pho or vietnamese cuisine in general. all i know is what i've eaten in a variety of establishments in los angeles. i've never encountered plum sauce as a condiment for pho before. is this yet another regional variation or is it perhaps the case that the restaurants in d.c referred to may have been pan-asian restaurants that happened to have plum sauce on the table as well? i suppose it is also possible she only mentioned the d.c thing to not seem foolish.

anyone?

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In the NY/NJ area Pho is usually accompanied by HOISIN sauce along with other condiments such as bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime wedges, chili pepper slices, sriracha, etc. Some people confuse hoisin sauce for plum sauce, but they are not the same thing.

condiments.jpg

This is a plate of Pho condiments at Saigon Republic in Englewood, NJ. The condiment in the little dish is in fact hoisin sauce.

i2688.jpg

Here is a plate of condiments for Pho at Binh Duong in Belleville, NJ. The hoisin sauce is in a squirt bottle on each table.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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i don't suppose we have any vietnamese specialists among us.

i was introduced to pho by a vietnamese co-worker many years ago in los angeles. she taught me to mix my hot sauce and my hoisin in with the broth, throw in everything else and eat. the place that we used to get pho from only ever gave us basil (never cilantro). now, she's just one person so i'm hesitant to formulate any theories about standard pho procedure from any of this but as a result my own pho preferences are set: chilli sauce, hoisin, lime, green chillis, basil, sprouts--all in the broth with the noodles and meat (ideally a mix of brisket, flank, tendon and tripe). i don't know how spicy most people like their pho but i like my broth to be pretty close to battery acid. in this too i am guided by my ex-colleague's example. this is how i like it but i don't raise eye-brows at other people's practices since for all i know mine is farther from the norm than theirs.

that being said i can't imagine what it would taste like with plum sauce and i don't want to find out. also: i really don't like it with cilantro; pho places in koreatown in l.a usually serve it only with cilantro. i'd thought this might be a korean take on it but this is also how the local vietnamese place here does it (and i see cilantro in jason's picture 1 above too). my wife likes to lace her broth with dangerous amounts of chilli sauce and then also squeeze some onto a plate to further dip pieces of meat into. but she's korean and what does she know? we're both uber-dexterous in the manner tommy describes though. i like to think it gives us street-cred here in colorado (which is not what you would call chopstick-friendly).

edited to add: the woman last night was adamant that she knew the difference between hoisin and plum sauce (there was a squeeze bottle of hoisin right next to the sriracha on their table) and that she'd always been served her pho with plum sauce before (in d.c). i'm more and more inclined to think that this was a face-saving claim and not a commentary on the state of pho in d.c--though there might be a strange symmetry to another assault on vietnamese culture in the capital of the u.s.

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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in Montreal, we are served usually the garnish platters that Jason shows above. that is, mung bean sprouts, Thai or Holy basil (but that looks like coriander in his 1st photo), lime wedges, and bird chilis.

my understanding is, from a really good recipe i found here--do a search for soupe tonkinoise (it's flash: i can't provide the direct link, sorry) is that since the coriander stems (and possibly the roots too), are already in the soup, you don't get more coriander.

i could be wrong.

but plum sauce?! :blink: yeah, i think she meant hoisin sauce. :wub:

edit to add: oh never mind, there's basil in the 2nd photo...

Edited by gus_tatory (log)

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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The recipe in Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (Harper Collins, 2001), which does an excellent job with the historical background, is similar - the cilantro is added to the broth at the end of cooking; the basil is added at the table.

Apparently the pho we know and love has a relatively short history - some argue that it was an adaptation of French pot-au-feu.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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The recipe in Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (Harper Collins, 2001), which does an excellent job with the historical background, is similar - the cilantro is added to the broth at the end of cooking; the basil is added at the table.

Apparently the pho we know and love has a relatively short history - some argue that it was an adaptation of French pot-au-feu.

it is always interesting how "tradition" gets created. thanks for the link skchai!

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my own pho preferences are set: chilli sauce, hoisin, lime, green chillis, basil, sprouts--all in the broth with the noodles and meat (ideally a mix of brisket, flank, tendon and tripe). i don't know how spicy most people like their pho but i like my broth to be pretty close to battery acid.

Based on this, you might like to sample Bun Bo Hue next time you're in a good Pho shop. Not the same anise flavored broth, but spicy with lots of interesting tidbits in the soup.

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Here in Saigon we never get cilantro with pho. The accompaniments are hoisin (never plum sauce!) and sriracha or similar; a wedge of lime; sliced red chili (not the small super hot ones, the larger ones); and a veg plate with bean sprouts, basil, mint sometimes, and usually that slightly sawtooth green (rau mau in Vietnamese I think).

In Hanoi you don't get often get the veg plate, that's a southern thing.

Also a lot of pple in the south like pho ga (chicken) .... well, it's not available now what with the avian flu thing, but it's not an unusual variation when chicken can be sourced. And Vietnamese beef is really not very tasty (though the pho broth is).

Someone mentioned bun bo Hue --- what I love about this dish is that it comes with a HUGE plate of mixed lettuces and shredded lemongrass, mix it in and it's like eating a salady soup (or soupy salad) ... and the fresh pounded chili sauce (red chilis, garlic, lime, maybe some fish sauce) is always on the table to accompany.

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my own pho preferences are set: chilli sauce, hoisin, lime, green chillis, basil, sprouts--all in the broth with the noodles and meat (ideally a mix of brisket, flank, tendon and tripe). i don't know how spicy most people like their pho but i like my broth to be pretty close to battery acid.

Based on this, you might like to sample Bun Bo Hue next time you're in a good Pho shop. Not the same anise flavored broth, but spicy with lots of interesting tidbits in the soup.

i didn't realize i'd given the impression that i am new to vietnamese food--i'm not an expert on it but i've been eating it for a long time now. i like the bun soups, but prefer pho.

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In Orange County, we usually go to a place that serves everyting on Jason's plate and the sawtooth herb. I don't think we get cilantro there, but I've seen cilantro in other places.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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I am relatively new to Vietnamese food, and I was going to post a topic on pho, since I had some yesterday afternoon!! My favorite Chinese restaurant, Leanh's, now has a Vietnamese menu and her pho is the only I've eaten. I wish I had photographed it. Beautiful food, and delicious.

I was going to ask, what is the "proper" way to eat it? Not that I'm hung up on proper, so I guess I should ask, how do you eat it? I'm speaking of utensils. I was given chop sticks, a big spoon, a little spoon, one of those oriental soup spoons [pardon me for not knowing what to call that], and a fork. I used the oriental spoon for broth, and the big spoon and fork for twirling the noodles like pasta, and the chop sticks for dipping meat into the hoisin sauce and for whatever I could put in my mouth without dripping broth all over. If I commited a faux pas, it was OK. I was one of only a few customers since it was between the lunch and dinner hours. But immediately, I knew I wanted to do some reading on pho and consult with eG-ers!

I also wondered if this was a typical or authentic version of pho, and you all have answered that. It was. The bean sprouts were in the soup, however, and there were "meatballs" in it, the likes of which I had never tasted before. It was topped with basil and cilantro. The squirt bottle of hoisin sauce and the sriracha were on the table, as were the lemon (?) wedges. Pho ga was on the menu, as was a seafood version.

For this restaurant-impaired area, this was great. I'm looking forward to trying out more Vietnamese food when I'm traveling. Any advice?

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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I am relatively new to Vietnamese food, and I was going to post a topic on pho, since I had some yesterday afternoon!!  My favorite Chinese restaurant, Leanh's, now has a Vietnamese menu and her pho is the only I've eaten.  I wish I had photographed it.  Beautiful food, and delicious.

I was going to ask, what is the "proper" way to eat it?  Not that I'm hung up on proper, so I guess I should ask, how do you eat it?  I'm speaking of utensils.  I was given chop sticks, a big spoon, a little spoon, one of those oriental soup spoons [pardon me for not knowing what to call that], and a fork.  I used the oriental spoon for broth, and the big spoon and fork for twirling the noodles like pasta, and the chop sticks for dipping meat into the hoisin sauce and for whatever I could put in my mouth without dripping broth all over.  If I commited a faux pas, it was OK. I was one of only a few customers since it was between the lunch and dinner hours.  But immediately, I knew I wanted to do some reading on pho and consult with eG-ers!

I also wondered if this was a typical or authentic version of pho, and you all have answered that.  It was.  The bean sprouts were in the soup, however, and there were "meatballs" in it, the likes of which I had never tasted before.  It was topped with basil and cilantro.  The squirt bottle of hoisin sauce and the sriracha were on the table, as were the lemon (?) wedges.  Pho ga was on the menu, as was a seafood version.

For this restaurant-impaired area, this was great.  I'm looking forward to trying out more Vietnamese food when I'm traveling.  Any advice?

susan, see above for my pho credentials (non-existent). that being said, i use the chopsticks for the noodles and meat, the soup spoon for the broth; not sure why you need anything but those two. perhaps they were covering all the cutlery bases? if the restaurant's clientele is largely anglo they probably have a default service that may have nothing to do with the clientele's actual abilities and preferences.

and i've seen meatballs in many a hardcore pho house (nothing but working class vietnamese patrons) in gardena and torrance in l.a, so i don't think their presence means you're getting something unusual. however, in my experience it is very unusual for the broth to come with everything in it. usually the broth will have just the noodles (and maybe the still mostly raw meat on top)--you mix everything else to your liking. or at least this is how every pho place i've been to in the u.s has done it.

(edit to fix grammar)

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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the only place i usually see cilantro served is at that place that jason took those pictures.  basil is usually the only herb, and sometimes that sawtooth stuff.

I've seen cilantro used at other vietnamese restaurants in Pho garnish plates but usually it is of a asian variety. Binh Duong serves it with cilantro, it was on the other side of that plate.

Saigon Republic doesn't really serve a "traditional" pho, but it's damn good.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Binh Duong serves it with cilantro, it was on the other side of that plate.

and, from what i can see in that pic, red cabbage!?!

i think i usually just ignore the cilantro if i see it. i pretend it's not there. :wink:

Actually, the condiment plate I have a picture of is not actually the Pho condiment plate. Its the Bun Bo Hue condiment plate, which has (in addition to the standard pho stuff) red cabbage as well as lettuce.

The actual pho condiment plate I beleive was cilantro (asian cilantro), sprouts, basil, limes, sliced chiles.

We ordered like 3 soups and like 6 appetizers that evening, so its easy to confuse all the condiment plates. :laugh:

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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In the places I go to, here in the Bay Area, the broth usually has the meat, noodles, cilantro, and onions. The condiment plate has bean sprouts, lime, and peppers. The hoisin sauce is always just in a squeeze bottle in the same way the chili sauce is.

I've seen cilantro used as a substitute for basil, though, but only when the the restaurant has run out of basil.

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I am relatively new to Vietnamese food, and I was going to post a topic on pho, since I had some yesterday afternoon!!  My favorite Chinese restaurant, Leanh's, now has a Vietnamese menu and her pho is the only I've eaten.  I wish I had photographed it.  Beautiful food, and delicious.

I was going to ask, what is the "proper" way to eat it?  Not that I'm hung up on proper, so I guess I should ask, how do you eat it?  I'm speaking of utensils.  I was given chop sticks, a big spoon, a little spoon, one of those oriental soup spoons [pardon me for not knowing what to call that], and a fork.  I used the oriental spoon for broth, and the big spoon and fork for twirling the noodles like pasta, and the chop sticks for dipping meat into the hoisin sauce and for whatever I could put in my mouth without dripping broth all over.  If I commited a faux pas, it was OK. I was one of only a few customers since it was between the lunch and dinner hours.  But immediately, I knew I wanted to do some reading on pho and consult with eG-ers!

I also wondered if this was a typical or authentic version of pho, and you all have answered that.  It was.  The bean sprouts were in the soup, however, and there were "meatballs" in it, the likes of which I had never tasted before.  It was topped with basil and cilantro.  The squirt bottle of hoisin sauce and the sriracha were on the table, as were the lemon (?) wedges.  Pho ga was on the menu, as was a seafood version.

For this restaurant-impaired area, this was great.  I'm looking forward to trying out more Vietnamese food when I'm traveling.  Any advice?

susan, see above for my pho credentials (non-existent). that being said, i use the chopsticks for the noodles and meat, the soup spoon for the broth; not sure why you need anything but those two. perhaps they were covering all the cutlery bases? if the restaurant's clientele is largely anglo they probably have a default service that may have nothing to do with the clientele's actual abilities and preferences.

and i've seen meatballs in many a hardcore pho house (nothing but working class vietnamese patrons) in gardena and torrance in l.a, so i don't think their presence means you're getting something unusual. however, in my experience it is very unusual for the broth to come with everything in it. usually the broth will have just the noodles (and maybe the still mostly raw meat on top)--you mix everything else to your liking. or at least this is how every pho place i've been to in the u.s has done it.

(edit to fix grammar)

I agree.

There are plenty of places where you can pick from a smorgasboard of other offerings besides just raw beef (tripe, flank, brisket, tendon, meatballs etc) but usually you get to pick what you want. The cooked meats always come mixed in but I've never seen cilantro given or the garnishes already added into the soup. The whole point is to flavor it to your liking. I, for instance, never add hoisin to mine, can't stand the stuff, put in lots and lots of sliced chillies and lime juice along with the sawtooth corriander, basil and beansprouts. The partner likes much less lime juice, and siracha in addition to the sliced chillies.

Usually you hold the chopsticks in your right hand (if you're right handed) and use it to put noodles and other bits straight into your mouth or you also use them to load up the spoon (which is held in your left hand) with the right balance of stuff and then stuff that (from the spoon) into your mouth. Now I'm hungry.

regards,

trillium

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I don't add sriricha and hoisin directly in my broth. Most places I go to have a little sauce dish that I can add it to.

I like beef pho with brisket and tendon only, then I add basil, cilantro, lime juice, chiles, sawtooth greens, no sprouts.

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Thanks for the responses about utensils, authenticity, etc. Still, I have a hard time imagining myself using chop sticks for the noodles... is it not impolite to have dripping noodles hanging out the mouth while sucking them in? (I've been trying to think of a better way to word that question, but didn't think of anything.)

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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Thanks for the responses about utensils, authenticity, etc. Still, I have a hard time imagining myself using chop sticks for the noodles... is it not impolite to have dripping noodles hanging out the mouth while sucking them in? (I've been trying to think of a better way to word that question, but didn't think of anything.)

Susan, as I'm sure many others will point out, not only is slurping noodles from the bowl with chopsticks NOT impolite, it's a show of great appreciation of the dish... the louder and noiser the better!

As your signature says, "Life is short" ... so jump in and slurp away, it's the only way to really enjoy the dish the way it's meant.

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Thanks for the responses about utensils, authenticity, etc. Still, I have a hard time imagining myself using chop sticks for the noodles... is it not impolite to have dripping noodles hanging out the mouth while sucking them in? (I've been trying to think of a better way to word that question, but didn't think of anything.)

put a bit size amt of noodle in a spoon on your hand as you hold the chopstick to the right.

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