Go Pho Yourself

Chicken noodle soup may be good for the soul, but compared to pho, it doesn’t stand a chance. Before I tried the Vietnamese dish, I expected most broth-based soups to taste the same. However, after tasting pho I quickly changed my mind. Pho is a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. The white rice-based noodles, are light in texture and mild in taste. Normally made with thin cuts of beef, pho is also prepared with thin slices of chicken or different variations of seafood, such as shrimp.

The most important part of the soup lies in the broth. Pho broth is not made from chicken bones, but from simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onions and a variety of spices which include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, roasted ginger, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove garnishes. It takes several hours to make this savory broth. The mixture needs to simmer long enough for all of the flavors to come together. Each minute proves for the finished product. The dish is then garnished with green onions, white onions, coriander, Thai basil, Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts and cilantro for a finishing touch.

The origin of the Vietnamese dish is believed to be in the Nam Dinh province, which is Southwest of Hanoi. In different parts of Vietnam, the preparation of the dish varies. For example, in Southern Vietnam, locals use thinner noodles, along with bean sprouts and a greater variety of herbs and spices.

My friend, who is a huge fan of pho, took me to a restaurant in Westminster called Pho Thang Long located on Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon. The restaurant is modern looking and pristine, while the bright, tangerine-colored walls create a vibrant atmosphere. There are no nooks and crannies; everyone sits together at their separate tables in one large room. On the table are a variety of sauces that can be enjoyed with your pho dish, which range from extremely spicy to tangy and sweet, like teriyaki sauce. We didn’t garnish our dish with the bean sprouts and lime that was provided for us, but instead picked up our sturdy chop sticks and began to ravage the large bowls placed in front of us. The sizes of the bowls vary, and in my personal opinion, even a small-sized bowl is difficult to finish. The portions at Pho Thang Long are quite large, but you definitely get your money’s worth.

While I was not as proficient with my chopsticks as my friend, it didn’t take away from the joy that I experienced while tasting my pho. It was unlike anything that I’d ever tasted. The noodles were delicate and fun to eat. My friend got the traditional pho with thin cuts of beef, while I got the seafood version with shrimp. The shrimp was cooked just right and had absorbed the flavors of the broth, which gave it an extra layer of taste. I came out of the restaurant that night feeling full and more than content.

Pho is soup that your taste buds will never forget: the soft, tender portions of meat, delicious noodles, and savory broth will leave you coming back for more. While it may seem like a simple dish, pho is an explosion of flavors and textures. Just a short drive away, Pho Thang Long is worth the trip to Westminster.

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