Thursday, May 7, 2009

What the Phô?!

On one of my recent trips to the Asian grocery store, I picked up a packet of instant noodles that were phô flavored. Phô is a Vietnamese noodle soup that is basically intensely flavored beef broth, rice noodles, herbs, bean sprouts, and various cuts of beef. My favorite is phô tai which is the noodle soup with very thin slices of raw, lean beef on top. The heat from the soup cooks the beef through. The magic of phô comes from its beef stock. The soup is made from simmering beef bones and meat and other parts in a large pot with cinnamon, star anise, other secret spices and onion. The soup is strained and used for the phô but the result is a spicy, savory, very rich broth.

My favorite thing about phô is that you can make your own perfect bowl. What is brought to you is usually a boiling hot bowl of that rich soup with just cooked rice noodles submerged inside. The soup also comes with thinly sliced onions and the raw slices of beef on top that cook while at the table. A tray of herbs such as mint, cilantro, Thai basil, and this long green leafy herb that I can't find the name for. On this tray, there are also usually some lime wedges, bean sprouts, and fresh jalapeño slices. The beauty of phô is that you can customize the bowl to just how you like it. Everyone has their own preference based upon how tart, sweet, or spicy they like it. This is my phô routine:

1. Immediately put a handful of raw bean sprouts into the boiling hot soup. Using chopsticks submerge the sprouts and loosen up the rice noodles sitting in a ball at the bottom of the bowl.
2. Rip up some of the cilantro and sometimes, if I feel like it, the long leafy herb I can't name and put it into the hot soup.
3. Squirt about 2 teaspoons of Sriracha (Thai hot sauce) into the soup. I like it very hot so I'm not happy until the broth is red.
4. Squeeze 1 wedge of lime juice into the soup.
5. Mix up the soup well until the broth is the right color of red.
6. Squirt A LOT (I use about 2-3 tablespoon fulls) of hoisin sauce in a separate sauce dish. This is important for me. I don't like my hoisin in the soup but some people might. I like to dip my chopsticks into the sauce and slather it all over the meat or the noodles so I get a big hit of hoisin with each bite.
7. To prepare the perfect bite, I put a little bit of noodles, 1 slice of beef, a slice of onion, a big dollop of hoisin sauce into a Chinese soup spoon. I put a bit of hot broth into the spoon and I eat it all in one big bite. It's delicious. I love phô.
Oslo has a fairly large Vietnamese population and while the phô here is acceptable and will do in a pinch, I take issue with paying as much as I do for it. In southern California, I used to pay $3.75 for a bowl of phô. Here, I pay about 3 times the amount for a mediocre bowl of noodle soup. That is until I found this little gem at the grocery store. A company has managed to put the perfect bowl of phô into a cellophane package, and I thank them. The instant noodles has a packet of dehydrated herbs and small dehydrated beef slices. I know, sounds gross...but the slices are very small and really rehydrate very well. The broth is nicely spiced, spicy from the dried red peppers, slightly tangy and full of beef flavor. The noodles are rice noodles that get the perfect soft and silky texture. This bowl of instant phô is better than what I can find here in the restaurants. I don't know if that's incredibly awesome or incredibly sad. I guess they aren't mutually exclusive. On the upside, I can make my own bowl of great phô at home at any time. I might even add some slices of roast beef sandwich meet on top to make it a real meal. Who would have thought? Real phô out of a cellophane wrapper - what the phô?!?
Oh Ricey!

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