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Condiments for and Preparation of Pho


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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.)

In my experience, it is not impolite, no. In addition, a lot of people come nowhere near finishing them and leave big piles of noodles in the bowls.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I can't speak for Vietnamese culture, but in Japan you hold the bowl with your left hand and eat the noodles with chop sticks in your right hand. You are to slurp your noodles, in sync with the others at the table, and then sip the broth from the bowl as if it were a cup of tea. I apply this method (minus the slurping :biggrin: ) at home and in a local favourite Vietnamese restraunt and no one seems to care.

What I am more interested in though, is whether or not anyone has any great recipes for a pho broth? I have a poor, "Americanized" one that tastes terrible compared to what Vietnamese restraunts offer.

-- Jason

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  • 2 weeks later...

Itch22, pho isn't hard to make if you've ever made beef stock. There are infinite variations but here's a basic prep. Make a good homemade beef stock with the addition of a clove studded onion, a chunk of daikon or mild turnip, some star anise, a cinnamon stick and a piece of ginger.

Strain into serving bowls, divide the chunk of turnip among the bowls, add to each bowl a small handful of soaked rice noodles (soak 15-30 min in warm water depending on the thickness of the noodle, thicker = longer), some shredded cooked chicked or thin sliced raw beef. Garnish with:

- a thin slice of raw onion

- a shake of black pepper

Have on a separate plate on the table for people to add as they wish:

- thai (purple) basil

- blanched bean sprouts

- a lime wedge per person

- some thin sliced red chili pepper

plus these sauces:

- nuoc mam (fish sauce, aka Thai nam pla) - I think this wasn't mentioned in the thread above but I feel it is essential, it's the 'salt' flavour. This is a very common seasoning in Vietnam.

- hoisin sauce

- a smooth red chili sauce, again the Thai stuff is easiest to find in USA

- and if you really want to be authentic, a bottle of Maggi liquid seasoning. I've never tried it and am not sure what it tastes like, but it's on the table at hardcore pho restaurants from Saigon to Vancouver.

If you need a more formal recipe just Google 'pho recipe'. The recipesource.com one works but I think my suggestions about garnishes and sauces are more authentic. I work in Vietnam for a few weeks a year and have a bowl every day when I'm there....

Cheers

Hong Kong Dave

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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Hi,

I've been making pho for myself for 5 years. It was the only I could get it short of going to NYC. Actually according to my finicky roommate, my broth is second to none except for this little hole in the wall VN restaurant in Manhatten Chinatown. I couldn't pry the secrets from them. Most of their business is takeout for all the surrounding Vientamese vendors. Though last time I was there, this group of Japanese tourists came in and as we left, a family of four from the midwest came in time to take our vacated table. It's so tiny that they might be able to squeeze in 10 people in the sitting area. She's not coming back not even for the divine broth. They were condescending towards her. I pointed out that she was Indian and they might be afraid of offending her dietary habits.

My pho stock tends to be light and aromatic. THough she is a ex-Hindu, she has an aversion to strong meat smells, especailly beef. I use to do can chicken stock and found the only one I like is a Chinese brand, Knor. Dump in a pho spice packet. Do a little shabu shabu action w/ the thinly slice beef to partially cook the beef and give the stock a infusion of beefiness. Than I started making my own chicken stock by the gallon and freezing it for future use.

But for the past 2 years before the Mad Cow Diesease thing put an end to it, I've been experimenting with doing the actual beef stock. I derived a recipe from 2 sources, Pleasures of a Vietnamese Table and Food of Vietnam (out of print). Basically I go to my friendly butcher and take whatever beef bones he has, usually shank bones. Beggars can't be choosers. And a few cut up bone pieces from the neck....still has a bit of beef on it. Maybe a piece of a tough beef from the leg region or where ever (cheapest piece of beef). Blanch the bones of all its' impurities and dump it all in my 5 gallon stock pot (bones and piece of meat should fill it almost to the top) with cold water and a bare handful of sea salt or kosher salt. Be careful of putting too much salt because depending on the salt, some have more sodium than others....depending on the impurities if any in salt. Put it on really low overnight. Shouldn't even simmer, just quietly steam. skim off fat and scum on surface. Keep the marrow for spreading on toast. Than dump in my aromatics all wrapped up in cheesecloth, 1 huge onion or 2 large onions (studded w/ 10-12 cloves) charred, 7-8 shallots charred, a 5-6 inch of ginger charred and whacked to release juices, toasted star anise and chinese cinnamon. Keep on real low for another 4-6 hours until whole house smells like pho. Strain out the stock....freeze what can't be used. You can refresh w/ pho instant spice packet when defrost for next pho fest. It's so concentrated sometimes that I add water to dilute it. Makes for easy storage in freezer though. Season w/ fish sauce (a bit for added aroma) and salt to taste.

I soak my dry pho noodles (if can't find fresh which is most of the time) until flexible. So it's easy blanching in boiling salted water. Put slices of beef (usually buy Korean sliced beef for BBQ, tend to be more tender w/ enough fat to keep it from drying out but not too much to offend picky roommate) that you swish through broth to partially cook. Maybe a few beef balls. Pour on simmering hot stock. Garnish w/ scallions, thinly sliced onions, and chopped up cilantro. Let diners garnish from their choice of thai basil, mint, saw tooth herb, bean spouts (mung bean spout are way too strong), thai chilis, and lime. The condiments should be rooster smooth chili sauce, hoisin sauce, and fish sauce (top grade, first pressing for the table). Of course this is the way we eat it in South Vietnam where my family is from. The northerners are purists and like theirs unardorned.

PS Don't let the broth boil, it's turn cloudy. It'll taste find but it will look very unappetizing.

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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.

Here in Albuquerque, which has a thriving Vietnamese population (meaning, many Asian grocery stores!) pho is served with purple basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, lime wedges and - this may be our regional twist on things - sliced jalepeno peppers! Hoisin sauce and chili sauce are in squeeze bottles on the table, nam pla available on request.

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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hmm...plum sauce in pho? in DC? Not sure where she usually goes for her pho, but in all my pho eating experience in DC, I have never run into plum sauce. itch, you bring up a good point about eating, but also sometimes there is a need to be careful, I know certain Chinese ways of eating are considered very uncouth and insulting by Koreans (previously documented in this forum). kai, thanks for the pho making tips!

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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.

Like Jason I've often seen both cilantro and basil, and I've often seen only basil (although sometimes you get multiple varieties), but I've NEVER seen only cilantro.

Mmm, Pho.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Is it plum or hoisin sauce?

It's hoisin sauce -- always. I've never seen plum sauce on the table at a Viet restaurant in America. The reason why it's there, to tell you the truth, is that when you order a bowl of pho with meat (beef and tendon) balls, the hoisin is used to dip the beef balls in right before delivery to your mouth and down your gullet.

A good beefy, aromatic pho stock would be ruined by the addition of hoisin to the stock. Would you add ketchup to a delicious bowl of western chicken noodle soup? I think not.

Similarly, adding squirts of sriracha to a good bowl of pho would also kill it. Pho stock takes a good 3 hours to cook. The delicacy of it would be dramatically altered with sriracha. But maybe when the stock bland or overly sweetened with sugar, that's what you need!

Northern vs. southern pho

Pho is a northern specialty. Northern Vietnamese are traditionalists and relatively conservative. What's in the bowl is what you eat. No adding much of anything in terms of condiments. (Why do you think the seat of Viet Nam's political power is in Hanoi?) Southerners are brash, boastful and innovative. That's why the condiment plate comes with each bowl - to let diners do the final cooking. Saigon is freewheeling and fun.

Herbs + chilies

Mint (hung lui, spearmint) should also be part of the condiment dish, but is rarely included in the U.S. Try it out as a final addition, and you'll be quite pleased.

Additionally, those slices of insipid jalapeno peppers that are on the plates should go! They should be slices of chilies akin to the Thai bird pepper - hot and fragrant. This is a bizzare aspect of how pho morphed when it was brought here from the motherland.

Pho and pot-au-feu?

No way. The French couldn't have inspired pho. France influenced many aspects of Vietnamese food and cooking, but pho employs elements that are very Chinese. Who colonized Vietnam longer? The Chinese, for a total of 1,000 years.

Happy eating and cooking!

Andrea Q. Nguyen

Author, food writer, teacher

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors (Ten Speed Press, Oct. 2006)

Vietworldkitchen.com

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Wow, very nice site, Andrea.

Over the years, I have eaten a lot of pho in various areas of CA, a lot in Westminster, L.A. and the Bay Area, and to be honest, I have never seen anything but jalapenos. Would you know of a place in say, the U.S. that serves Thai bird peppers? I grow Thai chilies, so I suppose I could bring my own, but I'm still interested in knowing where such a place might exist, and why I never found out about it.

I agree that a good pho broth is so wonderful and rich, it doesn't need anything. But a bad, thin, tasteless pho broth needs everything you can throw at it. :laugh: I've had some bad pho, particulary in the all night Korean pho joints in L.A. But at certain really good places, I used to do tastings of pho without any meat in it, to judge how good the broth was, for myself. I have to say, Vietnamese sure do know how to make a good beef broth.

--correction, I am growing a different variety, not the bird chili. my bad. I should get some seed!

Edited by jschyun (log)

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

--NeroW

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Thanks for visiting the site. I'm glad you like it.

As for the peppers, I have never seen anything but jalapeno at pho joints in America. I can't understand it. When you put a slice of Southeast Asian chili into the bowl, you smell the perfume of heat and then taste the hot. What's a pho lover to do? Bring a stash of chili slices? That would send a message, huh?

If you want to try growing different kinds of chilis, Evergreen Seeds has some pretty interesting strains. With the heat in Southern California, you should gets some great chilis.

Would you tell me more about Korean versions of pho? I used to live in LA but left before that craze started.

What does it taste like?

What do you like or dislike about it?

Where's a good place to try it? Where's a bad place to try it?

How does pho appeal to the Korean palate?

I'd love to get your insights!

Thanks,

Andrea

Andrea Q. Nguyen

Author, food writer, teacher

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors (Ten Speed Press, Oct. 2006)

Vietworldkitchen.com

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Thanks for visiting the site. I'm glad you like it.

As for the peppers, I have never seen anything but jalapeno at pho joints in America. I can't understand it. When you put a slice of Southeast Asian chili into the bowl, you smell the perfume of heat and then taste the hot. What's a pho lover to do? Bring a stash of chili slices? That would send a message, huh?

If you want to try growing different kinds of chilis, Evergreen Seeds has some pretty interesting strains. With the heat in Southern California, you should gets some great chilis.

Would you tell me more about Korean versions of pho? I used to live in LA but left before that craze started.

What does it taste like?

What do you like or dislike about it?

Where's a good place to try it? Where's a bad place to try it?

How does pho appeal to the Korean palate?

I'd love to get your insights!

Thanks,

Andrea

thanks for the info andrea. i guess i've been eating it wrong all these years (as has my vietnamese ex-colleague). the thing is i've got so used to it now with sriracha and hoisin in the broth i don't know if i'll be able to bring myself to change. i do always taste the broth before adding anything to it (if only to gauge how sweet it is)--perhaps i've just never encountered a broth good enough to not want to add anything to it. doubtful though--i've had a bad teacher and now i'm marred for life.

so in vietnam it would be completely unheard of to add either sauce to the broth?

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In Vietnam (specifically Saigon) I've often seen locals adding sauces to the broth.

The first time I tried pho was years ago in a downscale shared table dive on Main St in Vancouver, with 100% Vietnamese clientele. An older woman sharing my table noticed I clearly had no clue what to do and explained to me (using hand gestures - we didn't have a language in common) that I MUST put the sauces in the broth, so I've done it that way ever since....

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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You know what's interesting is I've seen people do it both ways. Either squirt sauces in, or put sauces in the little saucer and swab meat in it, leaving soup pristine.

I admit I was kind of relieved to see Andrea's post because for once it validated the style I liked. I've always thought that those sauces ruined the taste of really good pho broth.

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

--NeroW

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I've been told that the proper way is to dip the meat in the sauce separately, so I'm relieved to read that the Vietnamese will squirt sauce directly into the broth. I always squirt in sriracha, basically because I like it spicy and because I usually eat pho alone. So, in order to accomodate a book in my left hand I can't be messing with the whole dipping thing!

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Interesting thing . . . Pho has caught on quite a bit in recent years in South Korea (not to mention L.A. Koreatown), not in small part due to the efforts of the Pho Hoa chain and their Korean franchisees. However, looking at the Korean Website reveals ways in which the dish, particularly the garnishes, have been adapted to Korean tastes.

Among other things, the cilantro and basil are apparently brought to the table on separate plates from the bean sprouts, chiles, and lemon, and though it's not clear, it seems only on request, since the herbs are not mentioned in the description of the main accompaniments. This is presumably in concession to the conservative tastes of Korean diners, who in particular seem to react in horror to cilantro. The website also says that bean sprouts can be served precooked on request. Finally, the sriracha and hoisin sauces are brought in separate bowls rather then being dispensed by the diners themselves. Not sure why this is the case, but most likely because Pho Hoa is trying to position itslef somewhat upmarket compared to the way they are presented here. Anyway, American pho enthusiasts can claim that they are "purists" when it comes to pho compared to the Koreans!

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Andrea, welcome to eGullet. I've been to your site before and it's full of great info. Thank you.

I'm new to pho. Here's one I had last week at the shop next to 99 Ranch Market in Van Nuys. I have no idea what you all would think of it, but I thought it was rather good. Especially for $4.75. It's described as the "Special combo with rare slices of steak, well-done brisket, flank, tendon & tripe." It's hard to make out, but there was some ngo gai (sawtooth) on the garnish plate along with the purple basil.

pho.jpg

~Tad

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This is presumably in concession to the conservative tastes of  Korean diners, who in particular seem to react in horror to cilantro. 

interestingly every korean run pho place i've been to in koreatown in l.a has served only cilantro and not basil.

Anyway, American pho enthusiasts can claim that they are "purists" when it comes to pho compared to the Koreans!

the debate on what the "purist" way would be even in vietnam seems to still be open. but even if it turns out that every vietnamese person in vietnam does not add any sauce to the broth i enjoy my pho so much that way that it would be unlikely to deter me. it is interesting though to note how not just food but also ways of eating it travel.

i think people should strive to be aware of how things are eaten in the culture of origin, give it a whirl but finally eat the way they enjoy it best. the same goes for cooking. in both cases it is important, however, not to make claims of "authenticity" for hybridized practices--especially since the "authentic" anything is usually quite hard to find.

on a related note: my wife, when eating bengali food, has the terrible american habit--as i referred to it--of piling all the different things onto her plate at once. i used to give her a lot of grief about this until a malayali friend of mine came to visit us for a couple of weeks from home and at the first meal i cooked proceeded to not only pile everything onto his plate at once but to also mix it up. i've since then backed off the idea of there being any one "authentic" way of eating anything. my wife has also stopped giving me grief for eating things she cooks in a bengali way (adding a lot of sauce to rice and mixing things with the rice); in fact she's started cooking like a bengali--much more sauce in most of her dishes than there used to be.

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in both cases it is important, however, not to make claims of "authenticity" for hybridized practices--especially since the "authentic" anything is usually quite hard to find.

I was actually thinking about this earlier this week and realized that it was silly to agonize so much over authenticity when it came to something that is essentially street food, anymore than we'd seriously argue that there was one right way to make a hamburger. By definition it is casual, eaten to fortify, and meant to be modified according to the tastes of the eater and the whims of the cook. This is not a sacred Escoffier recipe, even though it seems somewhat exotic to many of us.

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Actually, speaking of authenticity, the person I trust the most on Vietnamese food (a picky Vietnamese co-worker) says he likes the pho in the U.S. better than the stuff in Vietnam because the meat is better, and there's more of it.

I don't think skchai was agonizing over authenticity. I thought he was just making an interesting comment about how pho in Korea/Koreatown has adapted to Korean tastes. The interesting thing about that site is that once you click on say, the menu section, the choices are in english as well as Korean, very few pho choices compared to what we have in the U.S. Also, the chicken and seafood pho are in the "set menu" area for some reason.

I bet pho in Korea is different than L.A. Koreatown pho. I don't remember ever seeing cooked sprouts here in L.A.! Maybe after you stick them in your hot bowl of soup...

I had some decent pho in Oakland where there's a couple of good places.

I think Koreaton style pho is passable, but since my co-worker took me to certain Viet places with really deep rich stock with little fat, the Koreatown ones pale in comparison. Plus there's usually too much fat in the Koreatown versions for my taste. I'm not talking authenticity here, just that the Westminster places are so much better, it's like a different dish, as Calvin Trillin would say.

I always got acne after eating Koreatown pho.

I usually see cilantro, sprouts and jalapenos (maybe onions? i forget) at the Korean places, I don't remember basil, haven't been to those places in a while. We used to frequent this place, I think on Vermont, in L.A. It might be part of the Pho Hoa chain, forget. The thing I didn't care for was the watery brew we would get, but then it was pretty late at the time we usually had pho there. Perhaps that's more the reason we got bad pho. But then they shouldn't be making it that late if it's going to be bad. Just my $.02

I grow my own Vietnamese/Thai basil and I use just the tips and throw that in the pho. It's really good. Easier to eat than those large leathery basil leaves they give you, and IMHO tastier.

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

--NeroW

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Herbs + chilies

Mint (hung lui, spearmint) should also be part of the condiment dish, but is rarely included in the U.S. Try it out as a final addition, and you'll be quite pleased.

Additionally, those slices of insipid jalapeno peppers that are on the plates should go! They should be slices of chilies akin to the Thai bird pepper - hot and fragrant. This is a bizzare aspect of how pho morphed when it was brought here from the motherland.

Andrea - very nice site. In Melbourne (Australia) we would have Pho at least once a week. This would come with bean sprouts, birds-eye type chili, lemon wedges, mint and Vietnamese mint (=laksa leaf = daun kesom = rau ram). Is "Vietnamese mint" actually used in Vietnam?

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I think Koreaton style pho is passable, but since my co-worker took me to certain Viet places with really deep rich stock with little fat, the Koreatown ones pale in comparison. Plus there's usually too much fat in the Koreatown versions for my taste.

i agree--i never had any pho in koreatown that i liked. even the stock at that pho bunc hyanh (spelling?) chain--or at least the branch in west-la--tasted better to me.

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This is a very interesting discussion! As jschyun mentioned, I was not agonizing over the "inauthenticity" of Korean pho. Indeed, the fact that pho has traveled all around the world and adapted itself in different ways is indication of its emerging status as a truly international dish.

Likewise, I don't think the debate over whether pho (or at least its name) was influenced by pot-au-feu should be a nationalist one (not that I believe Andrea was suggesting this) over whether pho is "authentically" Vietnamese. Clearly, even if proponents of this theory were correct, the tranformation of Chinese and / or French influences have made the dish into something that is truly unique.

I should also extend my welcome to Andrea and thank her for her site, which is the best resource for Vietnamese food that I know of on the web.

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Just talked to said co-worker and he reminded me of some things he had already told me.

He said that mostly Southern people squirt in the soup. He sometimes squirts but only a little. I forgot that. Also, he says here in SoCal, people dip all the meats in sauce for some reason, but in Vietnam (south) only the meatballs.

Also, he said that you can order clear soup, which is what Northern people like. He grimaced and said he didn't know why they like it, it's boring.

I think I got my inferiority complex from that grimace. I always kept my soup sauce free. But I don't like the restaurants here that specialize in Northern Vietnamese cuisine, so I guess I'm just a weirdo.

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

--NeroW

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