The stormy weather in Manila during the past week has influenced our menus, and we have been hankering for warm, comforting soups. And one of our favorite soups of all time has to be a Vietnamese Pho (sorry, can’t figure out how to put the proper accents on that foreign word). I once spent a few weeks in Vietnam for work, mostly in Hanoi, with a quick side trip to Saigon (I like it’s old name better than Ho Chi Minh), and everywhere I tried a pho, whether at a hoity toity hotel or restaurant or streetside vendor, it was absolutely delicious. The broth tasted like it had been brewing for hours and hours, and it didn’t seem to have an artificial cube of anything (though for all I know, they used some). Besides the flavorful broth, the noodles also seemed top notch, still a bit chewy from being so fresh, and the herbs were fragrant beyond belief… obviously natively grown and recently picked. I got the feeling that each purveyor of pho would rather sink into a vat of burning oil than serve a sub-standard pho.
In the past few months, we have tried several Vietnamese restaurants in Manila, and NONE, had a pho worth going back for. I won’t even say which ones we tried, but the pho ranged from slightly better than dish water to weak, characterless soup. Many had the right smells, after all, star anise comes cheap, but the beefiness of the broth was definitely not up to snuff. So in the past month or so, Mrs. MM has attempted to make Pho broth from scratch on two occasions, and this second attempt was very good indeed. I won’t repeat the recipe here, from Andrea Nguyen’s book “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”, as it is involved and takes at least two days, but suffice it to say you need flavorful beef bones and meat, lots and lots of it, star anise, charred ginger, charred onions, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, nuoc nam and rock sugar and a lot of patience… And when you serve this, you need lots of herbs served on the side. Yum, comfort food at its finest!
P.S. If readers know of any truly good phos at local Vietnamese restaurants, Mrs. MM and I would really appreciate your recommendations… Thanks!