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Condiments for and Preparation of Pho


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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 guess i'm a southerner and didn't even know it

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Pho is good with squeezed lime wedge, a bunch of bean sprout (I like to ask for my bean spoout steamed), a couple of branches of basil leaves, make sure you pick the leaves out instead of dumping the whole branch in. There's another must authentic herb you have to eat with Pho is "Ngo Gai", I only see this as a few restaurants in Boston, most other places do not offer this in the US.

Oh, never try eating pho with plum sauce. Get the chilly sauce (spiracha) and hoisin sauce. If you don't want you beef to be overcooked and dried, ask for the rare beef separately on its own plate, you can dip the beef into your bowl right before eating, the hot broth will cook it just right.

Enjoy !

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Sounds like pho is the 'have it your way' soup for the world. As it's spread all over, beginning from north to south Vietnam, and then via the Vietnamese diaspora, it's quickly shifted and changed identity. In 30 years it's become a pretty international phenomena. Over a zillion bowls served?

the "authentic" anything is usually quite hard to find.

"Authenticity" is a sticky issue and really resides in the heart and soul of the person preparing the food. As with any art form (cooking is one of them, of course!), you need to learn the fundamentals/classics before you can riff with confidence to invent something new. This grounding is essential.

So whether you choose to squirt or not, that's your personal preference. But it's good to get some background info under your belt before you dive into the bowl, no?

Also, if you've ever spent the time to make pho at home, the 3 hours that it takes to cook the soup broth would be wasted by the intrusion of hoisin and sriracha. Yeah, you might as well just doctor up a can of Swanson's beef broth and boil some noodles.

... another must authentic herb you have to eat with Pho is "Ngo Gai", I only see this as a few restaurants in Boston, most other places do not offer this in the US.

Yup, guppymo, you're right on target. "Ngo gai" is thorny cilantro and you're in the land of the truly authentic if you have some of the long leaves on the herb plate. It's got an intensely cilantro flavor without that soapiness that some folks hate. It tends to be pricey stuff but I've heard that you can buy it cheaply in Latino markets in the gulf states. "Ngo gai" originally from South America where it grows splendidly in the heat. Known as "culantro" it's popular in the Caribbean.

You can grow the stuff from seed (try richters.com) or score a plant at a Viet market during the spring and summer months. I was at the Oakland, CA farmer's market and bought some from Viet farmers who came down from the Stockton area.

mint and Vietnamese mint (=laksa leaf = daun kesom = rau ram). Is "Vietnamese mint" actually used in Vietnam?

Yes, "Vietnamese mint" is used throughout Vietnam. It's really not a mint and neither is it "Vietnamese cilantro" or "Vietnamese hot mint" -- which are the weird monikers ascribed to it sometimes in the States. It's just "rau ram" (raw rahm). Rau ram gives a great spicy-cilantro-like note to food. There's a terrific spicy chicken cabbage salad (goi bap cai ga) that just sings when you add rau ram to it. People who enjoy half-hatched duck eggs (hot vit lon) pair it with rau ram to cut the richness. I know it sounds gruesome...but it's a cultural thing!

Rau ram is super easy to grow too, and will weather light frost in winter, popping out new leaves as things warm up.

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.

I used to live in L.A. and have often wondered about that place. The photo of the bowl looks pretty good. For me, a terrific bowl of pho boils down to the broth. The reason being is that the rest of the stuff is rather superfluous. The broth is the canvas and it also enrobes all the elements. Nothing else is salted or spiced but the broth.

So if your broth (without squirts of anything) is clear (not rushed by boiling, which clouds things) and tasty (salty-sweet with some delicate spice notes from star anise, cinnamon and cloves), it's a good one! There's probably a little MSG in the broth -- that's like a must have -- but MSG can't mask bad cooking.

An excellent bowl of pho leaves a wonderful beefiness that lingers on your lips for hours.

Happy eating,

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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You can grow the stuff from seed (try richters.com) or score a plant at a Viet market during the spring and summer months. I was at the Oakland, CA farmer's market and bought some from Viet farmers who came down from the Stockton area.

Just a note, Richter's has a fabulous selection but a lot of people have told me delivery time is ridiculously slow and sometimes seeds and plants have come dead/non-germinating.

Another place you can get culantro/ngo gai seeds is Johnny's Seeds: Culantro It's $2 a pack, and I think Johnny's is a little expensive, but they have excellent service and delivery times in my experience.

Also, for a lot of Thai vegetables/fruits/herbs, including the aforementioned Thai bird chili, as well as eggplants, melons, tomatoes from that region, another source I know of is Baker's Creek Seeds. I have order from these people before and get great seed, lots of it, for a pretty reasonable price.

If you ever want to order from a garden mail order company, you should go to Garden Watchdog Site before doing so.

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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the "authentic" anything is usually quite hard to find.

"Authenticity" is a sticky issue and really resides in the heart and soul of the person preparing the food. As with any art form (cooking is one of them, of course!), you need to learn the fundamentals/classics before you can riff with confidence to invent something new. This grounding is essential.

andrea,

this is a good case of selective quoting--the complete sentence right before the one you quote says the following:

"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. "

as you can see i'm not advocating a complete free-for-all in the name of freedom from the trap of "authenticity". the problem with your own formulation is that it suggests that there is such a thing as an original, "authentic" pho in vietnam, when posts here already indicated that it varies regionally there too. so i don't think, based on the information so far, that it is a tenable position to say that "authentic" pho is one that no sauce goes into, and it is okay to stray from this if you know that fact. that "fact" itself is already one that people in the south seem to have a different take on than people in the north. why privilege one regional variation over the other and call it the "authentic" or "fundamental" or "classic" one?

mongo

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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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.

What's really interesting is I think tastes (may) change, once someone goes from Korea to L.A. I noticed this in my own relatives. And it's only logical, I guess. My tastes changed just from moving to San Francisco. My mom loves cilantro now. I think my dad likes it too because of Mexican food.

However, I wonder if in Korea, they don't give it out because they're just saving money, and they don't have the Vietnamese competition to worry about. Kind of like being charged for panchan at a yakiniku place, sort of.

--sorry. back to pho

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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  • 3 weeks later...

Agree with Andrea, the soup is the most important thing. In an ideal world no additives would be needed at any pho restaurant. However, there's a lot of bad pho around that needs a helping hand. Just because somehting cooked for 3 hrs doesn't mean it's any good.

In Hanoi & Saigon, dolloping is defintely de rigeur - specially the lousy chili sauce served in Vietnam and, in Hanoi at least, the (better) garlic and chili vinegar.

I mentioned this in another discussion but, after a lot of hunting in Hanoi, I would recommend 2 Le Van Huu street and 13 Lo Duc street for a pucker pho.

pieman

noodle pie

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  • 1 month later...

Ah, the chewy stuff in a bowl of pho...

Tendon is the white fibrous connective tissue that unites a muscle with some other part of the body, such as a bone. Tendon is a cord or band of tissue that transmits the force which the muscle exerts. Think of your Achilles heel -- that's a tendon.

In pho, cords of white tendon (from the cow's shin) are cooked in the broth. Some restaurants then take the tendon pieces and press them into a loaf pan (or something of that sort) and let them cool. When tendon cools, it sticks together and becomes very firm. This makes it super easy for a pho joint to take a block of cooked tendon and slice it thinly (using an electric meat slicer, for example) to put into your soup bowl. When the boiling broth is poured over, the tendon is softened and ready for eating.

As for the tripe, it's technically defined as "the stomach of a ruminant" in the Oxford Companion to Food. Ruminants include cow, ox, sheep, deer, etc -- animals that are even toed, hoofed, and have three- or four-chambered stomachs. There are basically 4 types of tripe, depending on which stomach it comes from.

In pho, what's used is called book, leaf or bible tripe, and comes from the third stomach. It's quite pretty because it actually looks like dangling book pages. For pho, the book tripe is cut very thinly before being added to a bowl. Unlike other kinds of tripe, such as honeycomb, you don't need to cook it to tenderize it further. Being cut thin means that it won't be overly chewy yet still a little crunchy. In the U.S., book tripe has been hygienically processed so that there's little odor or flavor. As with many Asian foods, it's about texture.

Happy eating,

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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Andrea, I have been lurking around this thread for a while and have really come to enjoy and appreciate your knowledge and pragmatism regarding food and cuisine. You are a good teacher.

A point you made a while back about the importance of the Chinese influence in Vietnamese and most Asian cuisines should be well noted by all who appreciate fine Asian cuisine. Knowing the techniques of Chinese eating and cooking will be like a passport to enjoyment of all the other East and Southeast Asian cuisines. From Korea to Burma, all cuisines are variations on a theme of Chinese style and techniques, using local ingredients. If there was anything good that came out of thousands of years of Chinese hegemony and dominance on the Asian continent. it surely must be the love of food and the preparation of same.

I will vehemently agree with you that regardless of who by and where it's done, one does not put hoisin in pho broth. One would not put ketchup or hoisin in birds' nest or sharkfin soups! Thick sauces like hoisin and plum are almost always used for dipping...only.

There is a bit of confusion about semantics and nomenclature regarding beef tendons. There are two types, one that is like a block of white nylon from the shins and elbows and a second type that is like a block of thick gelatinous material, also connective tissue but a different type of "connectivity". The former is inedible and the latter is great for texture. I am not an bovine anatomist, so hopefully someone can jump in and tell us the difference.

Concerning what condiments and greens are presented with a bowl of pho, in Saigon (apologies to Uncle Ho) I got amounts ranging from none to a whole salad plate with coriander, or the sawtooth substitute that tastes like coriander, mint, basil, sprouts, chilies, etc. In Toronto I usually get the works. But the important thing is whatever you get, there is no right or wrong kind, no right or wrong amount because what you get as veggie garnishes may be entirely dependent on whatever the kitchen staff has on hand. I would stop worrying about what is normal, traditional or proper and do the Chinese thing and ENJOY.

Cheers.

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I worry about authenticity because I feel like people are in on something good and I don't know about it and am sitting in a cloud of ignorance, when I could be eating something fabulous. I admit to chasing after "authentic" stuff.

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

--NeroW

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  • 2 weeks later...
From Korea to Burma, all cuisines are variations on a theme of Chinese style and techniques, using local ingredients. If there was anything good that came out of thousands of years of Chinese hegemony and dominance on the Asian continent, it surely must be the love of food and the preparation of same.

Ben, that's reason why China called itself the Middle Kingdom! In Chinese, Vietnam (Yue Nan) means further south -- sort of like a southern extension of China?!

I worry about authenticity because I feel like people are in on something good and I don't know about it and am sitting in a cloud of ignorance, when I could be eating something fabulous. I admit to chasing after "authentic" stuff.

Jschyun, we're in the same boat. I'm an eternal optimist but an unfortunately disappointed 50% of the time. Authenticity is both evolving and elusive. We continually chase after it when perhaps all we're looking for is a good bite!

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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I was just going to post that there is a wonderful article about pho in yesterday's San Jose Mercury news- I cannot wait to make some pho from scratch.

Andrea, I see it is your work- wonderful reading and photos. I am HUNGRY now. Do you know if pho places here in the Bay Area usually make their broth from scratch from bones or not? thanks!

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Oh, I'm so glad that you read and liked the story. (For those of you who want read "The Evolution of Pho," a 6/9/04 San Jose Mercury News "Food and Wine" section story, I've posted it full text at my site. There is lots of info, including its history, tips on how to cook and eat pho and a recipe.)

I think that at most pho joints in the U.S. , they make their broths from scratch. If you're the Viet owner of a pho shop, your name rests on your broth and people will judge you by it. But be forewarned that there are many bad broths out there (too sweet, bland and watery), just like there are lots of terrible hamburgers, burritos, etc...

On the other hand, products like the StockPot Inc. broth may be making their way to larger, commercial chain restaurants and other mainstream eating outlets. The broth is made from chicken and not beef. Discerning pho eaters will know the difference, but the "flavor profile" universally appeals. StockPot concocts the broth from scratch. The final broth is reduced to a concentrate and refrigerated. When you use it, you dilute with water and bring it to a boil.

So to answer your question, yes, the mom-and-pop pho shops in the Bay Area are making their own. Whether or not they're good, that's a horse of a different color!

Happy eating and cooking,

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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I don't know what the deal is with Koreans and pho but recently, I saw instant pho in a cup (like cup a noodles) at a local Korean grocery store. $3.99 for I think 12 cups. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera. Next time I'll buy some. I don't expect it to be good or anything, but it was interesting.

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

--NeroW

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Oh, I'm so glad that you read and liked the story. (For those of you who want read "The Evolution of Pho," a 6/9/04 San Jose Mercury News "Food and Wine" section story, I've posted it full text at my site. There is lots of info, including its history, tips on how to cook and eat pho and a recipe.)

great article andrea--considered and not unbalanced by your own preferences. thanks for the link.

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Thanks for the reply Andrea. Sometimes we're fighting a cold and there's no energy to cook but I'm craving a nice bowl of pho.

This has motivated me to finally buy that big stockpot and make some pho and chicken broth, which I've been planniing ever since reading the stock course in the eGCI months ago.

Now I just need to find a butcher for the bones, because I'd like to use natural, grass fed beef sources like you suggest. (maybe I will PM you for bay area sources)

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Andrea - Interesting article and very detailed cooking instructions - Thanks.

One minor gripe about the price of pho in Hanoi. A bowl of Pho on the street in a 'popular-with-locals' place in Hanoi is always 5,000VD or maybe 7,000VD with a raw egg added. Not sure if you mixed up the pricing with the south, where it is generally double the price. In Saigon pho commonly goes for 10,000VD, or the 11,000VD you mention. It can cost more in the newer, posher pho restaurants in town.

I am still hunting down my ideal pho at noodlepie. There's an interesting pho article in The Observer which concentrates on the Hanoi take.

pieman

noodlepie

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Pieman,

Thanks for your compliments. I ordered the extra special bowl at that joint in Hanoi. Maybe they were charging a higher price for tourists? My husband and I were the only non-locals. In any event, it was dirt cheap and delicious. I had no complaints.

Additionally, thanks for the links. I just added to my pho page links to your blog, the saigon.net page on Pasteur street and the London Observer piece. Food from the Cultural Revolution days became popular in Beijing several years ago. I suppose it reminds people of their resiliance and ability overcome hardship.

It's hard to find good pho in Saigon. The Hanoians do it really well and there's that Hanoi pride too! I never got to Pho Hoa in Saigon on my last trip. From your blog, it sounds like Pho Hoa there is like Pho Hoa in the U.S. -- mediocre and for the masses.

Do you find that lots of people eat the Chinese donuts (you tiao gui in Mandarin; you chao quay in Vietnamese) with pho? I was very surprised to see that practice because it was completely unknown to me. I've heard that it's a recent development and a poor man's option since that person can't afford the cost of a bowl with meat.

The evolution of Vietnamese food and cooking happens at a such rapid pace. Vendors are super entrepreneurial and competitive. Home cooks want to out do one another. It's so Vietnamese! I suppose it's just fun to keep up with all the changes!

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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