Alright, before we get started, let’s get something out of the way: It’s pronounced “fuh,” not “foe.” We all have something dumb that gets us all twisted out of shape beyond any semblance of reason, and for me, it’s “Hiya, can I please have a bowl o’ foe?” Let’s practice, now: FUH. FUH. FUH. Got it? Good!
While we’re at it, “Oh, it’s Vietnamese? How much dog is in it? Haw haw haw!” isn’t funny anymore. Actually, it never was. You might as well be the idiot who rates sushi restaurants based on their California rolls, you know who you are…..
I digress. Anyone who knows me well knows that there’s one thing in Vietnam that always sets me to drooling as soon as landing gear hits runway, and that thing is … PHO (good guess)! I eat pho at least once a week, no matter where I am, and it’s one of my top three favorite things to eat, along with Osso Bucco and Lobster Bisque. Yewwww, I’m getting all bothered just thinking about that little ménage a trois.
Here in the states, you’ll see pho restaurants with catchy names like “Pho-king” (fucking), “Pho-nomenal” (phenomenal), Pho Shizzle, “Phoc U” (fuck you), and so on. Perhaps one of these days some enterprising New Jersey restaurateur will open a Pho-gedaboutit.
Pho is basically a complex and flavorful beef or chicken stock, with sliced beef or chicken, and rice noodles. Pho was developed during the French occupation from the mid 1800’s to 1954. The French taught the Vietnamese how to make stocks, which is a staple in France. The Vietnamese took that stock and put their own spin on it. What makes pho special is how you make the soup your own, kind of like your Starbucks venti-skinny-caramel-half-caf whatever. Think of pho as a plain hamburger, ready for you to customize with all the fixings. Starting out with beef or chicken stock, meat, and noodles, you can add fresh vegetables—e.g., basil, coriander, bean sprouts, hot chilis—plus condiments such as lime, lemon, Sriracha sauce, plum sauce (hoisin), MSG and sugar, for whatever combination of hot, sweet, acidic, and umami flavor you want.
The more pho you eat, the better you’ll get at making it just the way you like it, until you and your soup become one. Divine! I’m in Saigon tonight, and I’m headed to Pho Cao Van, the best Pho in Saigon, a third-generation pho house. The stock is delicate, the noodles soft and pliable, and the vegetables fresh and aromatic. I use lime, chilis, sriracha, corriander, basil and plum sauce. I simply cannot wait to dive into this bowl.
Based on the amount of spice I like to use, I’ll be taking my Prilosec, Tums and stocking up on wet wipes, but you know what, it will be so pho-king worth it (sorry, couldn’t resist).
If you liked that story check out the one I wrote while in town called Frogger in Saigon.