By Teresa Farney
Updated: August 8, 2017 at 2:46 pm • Published: August 8, 2017
Pho is Vietnam's national noodle dish, made from an exquisitely seasoned broth filled with thinly sliced meat and vegetables and served with garnishes and sauces on the side.
Andrea Nguyen, author of "The Pho Cookbook," knows her pho and in her research learned more about the dish. It was born in Hanoi in the early 1900s when French colonials ordered the slaughtering of cows (traditionally draft animals there). The leftover bones and tough cuts were turned into soup by street venders.
"Pho" is the name of both the noodle soup and the flat rice noodle in it.
Before we start slurping, though, let's get the pronunciation down. Is it Fuhh? Po? Faux?
According to Nguyen, it's "fuhh" - as in "phenomenal" - which is how you pronounce the name of the popular Pho-nomenal Vietnamese Restaurant on the city's northeast side.
And it's what we'd call the pho broth, too. A good broth is crystal clear, like a French consommé, and packs two punches: a beef punch from simmering beef bones, oxtail and flank; and the spicy, aromatic punch of cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cardamom. Chard, shallots, garlic and ginger join the flavor chorus. Pho broth can be made with pork, lamb and chicken or just veggies.
Originally, pho was Vietnam's national breakfast. But the steaming, aromatic, comforting concoction is irresistible any time of day - "even for the midnight snack when you get home from a night on the town," says Supansa Banker, executive chef at 2South Food + Wine Bar.
Banker hails from Thailand and loves this Vietnam dish. When she's not making pho at home, she heads to Pho-nomenal to get a fix.
"I like to eat here because of the atmosphere, and they have very good broth, which is the basis of pho," she said. "They also have a special topping that most pho restaurants don't serve, which is tendon and tripe. These and beef are my favorite proteins for pho."
Pho is typically served with a wide selection of garnishes in small bowls. Knowing how these garnishes work is key to understanding pho. Before piling them into the bowl, you should appreciate and savor the complexity of the broth without them.
"First, taste the broth and enjoy the base flavor before adding anything," Banker says. "Then squeeze a little lime and add a few fresh herbs and other ingredients that come on the side. I like to add a little of the fresh ingredients at a time so I can play with different flavor profiles."
Hoisin, sriracha, fish sauce and peanut sauce are common condiments also served alongside a bowl of pho. If you get too aggressive with sriracha, it will overpower the delicately flavored pho. Just say no. Keep the fiery hot guy on the side and use it as a dipper for meat and veggies.
You can make your own pho, but use this time-saving tip from Banker.
"I buy pho base at the Asian market," she said. "Then add your choice of vegetables and thinly sliced beef to flavor the broth more. Then add cooked rice noodles, additional meat, fresh herbs and veggies such as Thai basil, bean sprouts and jalapeños."
Once you've figured out your preferred flavors, garnishes and condiments, it's time to commence slurping. (It's not rude to slurp. It's considered a compliment to the cook.) Use chopsticks in one hand to fish out the meat, noodles and veggies. Have the Asian-style spoon in the other hand to sip broth. Once you've polished off the solids, raise the bowl to your lips with both hands and finish the broth.