I used to dislike eating pho. No offense to my Vietnamese homies, but for some reason, I didn't really see the point of soup noodles (basically, no offense to my Asian homies overall). I had it once at a place near my work and I didn't even finish it and vowed never to have pho again.
Boy was I stupid! My friends lately have been making plans left and right to go have pho, including Pho32 in Koreatown, Pho32 in St. Mark's Place, and Pho Bang in Chinatown. I've fallen back in love with pho!
Since I've eaten at Pho Bang more times, I'll dedicate this post to it (but a shout out to both Pho32 locations). I've had their chicken pho and beef brisket pho, though, inexplicably, the beef brisket pho is the cheapest one on the menu and chicken pho costs more. Why!?
So, recently, after a late night in lab, I was starving and hankering for...anything, really. We settled for Pho Bang after our first choice was closed at 8pm (cue images of me being irate and obscene on the sidewalk in front of the closed storefront: "I'M. SO. HUNGRY. WHY ARE YOU CLOSED?!?!?!"). We both got the extra large beef brisket pho. When the waiter brought out the little plate of raw bean sprouts and basil, I started nibbling on bean sprouts because I really needed to munch on something. I normally don't eat bean sprouts that often, and I only really like it when my dad makes it, stir-fry, with beef in a rich, salty gravy. Otherwise, raw bean sprouts sort of taste like cold dirt.
Our pho arrived really quickly, and upon looking at my enormous bowl of soup noodles, I realized why: the beef brisket slices were practically raw and bright pink. I've never seen such raw meat placed in front of me, except at Korean barbecue. I was about to flip out at the waiter, until Alex reminded me that the soup was probably hot enough to cook it on the spot. Ohhhhhh...right. I guess my mind doesn't function that well when I am food-depleted.
So I dumped a bunch of bean sprouts and tore the leaves off the basil twigs into the bowl, and then took my chopsticks and pressed the noodles and fixin's until they were submerged by the soup. Slowly but surely, the pink meat started changing colors before my eyes into the brownish grey of cooked beef. Phew!
The one thing that made me enjoy pho was the realization that you should dump loads of hoisin sauce and Sriracha sauce on it. I think the first time I had pho, I ate it plain. Not to say that pho can't be tasty without fixin's, but I think I just didn't appreciate it the first time. I took the sticky brown squeeze bottle full of incredibly salty hoisin sauce and squirted an elaborate lattice on the surface of my bowl. Then, I sprinkled some Sriracha and spicy chili sauce evenly around too. With a few more chopstick twirls, everything was nice and evenly mixed and cooked.
How can I describe pho? It's thin noodles, some meat, scallions, bean sprouts, basil leaves, swimming in broth, and the way I eat it, evenly flavored with hoisin sauce and spicy chili. On its own, the noodles and meat in broth might be a little boring, but it's really the additions that give it uniqueness, like a chorus of other voices. I didn't use the basil leaves before, but I found that it added a really interesting fresh herb flavor. I also wouldn't think of a stereotypical Italian/European herb to be used in pho, but it really does a good job. The barely-cooked bean sprouts add a nice crunch. And, let's just say...I would eat shoe leather if it were covered in hoisin sauce.
I eat pho with chopsticks in my right hand and a big Chinese porcelain spoon in my left. I put some noodles into the spoon, submerge it in the soup to wet the noodles a bit, and then spoon the whole thing into my mouth. It's an art, really.
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