Phở (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)
My parents are Chinese born and raised in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, my mom’s (very large) family owned a sort of cafe/restaurant where she helped serve the Vietnamese masses coffees and teas and treats. My mom also helped her father make and serve large bowls of phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup. In large 1 meter-wide pots, they would whip up gallons of broth, heavy with musky spices and juicy beef bones, to dish up with freshly chopped herbs and rice noodles.
If you give a dog in Vietnam a bone like this, my mom said to me while swinging a large beef bone gaily, he would be very happy, chewing it all day. Even if there’s no meat on it.
In Canada, phở is something that I eat almost regularly—it’s my family’s take out as opposed to pizza. Although we have that sometimes too. Usually pepperoni.
After reading many traveling blogs, I regularly hear about how the tatiest phở comes from strange, obscure, hole-in-the-walls in Vietnam, where phở is sold from a wrinkly little old lady and you sit on wobbly plastic chairs on the side of the street. Hmnnn. I want the chance to eat hot steaming noodles, rubbing chopsticks with the locals, maybe throwing out some random Vietnamese words into the air, hoping that some one will catch the right ones. Perhaps you will get the most authentic phở in Vietnam, but I’m sure that Canada’s taste just as good. Right, ma?
It tastes good…for being outside of Vietnam, she tells me.
So, my mom suggested making our own.
Phở is good, man. The broth is seriously so aromatic and tasty. The fresh herbs, the meat, and the sauces adds something else to make this noodle soup distinctive of the others. Maybe because there can be such a mix of flavours, almost a clash.
When asked whether the Vietnamese add any MSG to their phở, my mom answered “Yes. Lots. It’s what makes it tasty”. Dang it all. Asians really do like to add MSG to their foods. My mom used to buy it in packets from the supermarket to add to our foodstuffs. But, we should eliminate the white powder from our diet, so we’ll scratch it out of the recipe. It tastes good without it anyways.
adapted from Momma Fatty Dumpling and Steamy Kitchen
4 libs of beef bones
1 ox tail, chopped
1 large onion
1 large piece of ginger, about 4 inches
1 spice package (1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbs corianger seeds, 1 tbs fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves–in a mesh bag)*
1 inch chunck of yellow rock sugar
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs salt
1 package of rice noodles (or how much you’d like to serve)
1/2 lbs flank, London broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible
1 package of beef balls, cut in half
big handfuls of fresh herbs: mint, cilantro, basil
1 stalk of green onions
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hot chili sauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Bring a large stock pot of water to boil, the pot should be about 2/3 full. Place your beef bones in the water and boil them for a few minutes. Remove the bones and drain the pot of water. Refill the pot with new water and return the bones to it. Bring the pot back to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Add the chopped ox tail and simmer, covered with the lid, but with a crack, for 2 hours. Using a ladle, skim the top to remove any scum that rises to the top.
2. Over the stovetop or in the oven, either cook dry in a pan or broil the onion and ginger with skin on and whole until charred. Remember to flip them to be evenly cooked. Peel the ginger and the onion. Chop the onion into large chunks and set aside.
3. At the end of the broth’s 2 hour-simmer, remove the ox tail and set aside. Add the onion, ginger, spice packet, sugar, fish sauce, salt, and simmer slightly covered for 1 hour. After the hour, taste the broth and adjust seasoning if not up to par. Strain the broth, and refrigerate the broth overnight after it has cooled a bit. The bones, the mesh bag of spices, the ginger, and the onion can be removed at this point. Also, when you take the bones out, you can remove the tendons from the bones to make a tasty addition to your meal.**
4. After refrigeration, skim off the fat that has accumulated at the top of the broth and bring the broth back to a boil. Add the beef balls and return the ox tail back into the broth.
5. Cook the rice noodles according to the package’s instructions.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the herbs. Wash, and dry them before chopping the mint, and basil into about 3-4 in pieces. Chop the green onions, cilantro, and onion and mix it all together.
6. Your soup bowls should already contain the rice noodles and the raw slices of beef. When you are ready, dish the boiling broth into the soup bowls—the hot broth will cook the raw beef slices. Remember to serve the ox tail and beef balls as well. Serve immediately and your guests can garnish their bowls themselves with your prepared herbs, a sprinkling of the green onion, onion, and cilantro mixture, a squish of lime juice, bean sprouts, chilli peppers, hoisin sauce or hot chilli sauce.
*I bought a pre-packaged collection of pho spices from the supermarket that included a mesh bag.
**My mom sliced off all of tendons and squished it all together in a sausage shape and wrapped it with plastic wrap overnight. The next day, there was a tendon-sausage ready to be sliced and added to the broth. Don’t add it to the boiling pot though, it’ll fall apart. Instead, place it in the readied soup bowls.
I want to leave you with this Six Chix comic that appeared in Saturday’s Toronto Star newspaper. I couldn’t stop laughing. Oh, Pioneer Woman…