The Dining Dish blog is Dara Bunjon's take on anything food, both national and in her hometown of Baltimore. Warning: this food blog can be harmful to your waistline.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Edible Enlightenment - Part 1

When Nyghia and Phoung Hoang introduced me to Vietnamese food, it was truly a day of edible enlightenment. Some of you will remember them from their Hoang’s Seafood Grille in Mt. Washington and Canton. The Hoang's have relocated to Falls Church and have opened Hoang' s Cuisine.

The Hoangs became good friends and it was Nyghia who introduce me to pho (pronounced FUH), which means soup in Vietnamese. I received an in-depth lesson on this rich, flavorful broth at Hoang’s carryout location on York Road, near Lake Avenue. The carryout had a small counter and it was only there that Nyghia offered pho. In Baltimore, at that time, few if anyone knew of pho, of course the Vietnamese and then the Vietnam War veterans did. From my Northwest home it was easily a 30 minute drive but I had to have my pho. I remember dragging Chef Nancy Longo from Pierpoint Restaurant for this new flavor sensation.


This story is not for the attention deficit. For those of you who read all installments, you will be deemed pho literate (by Dining Dish standards). Yes, I said installments: recipes and reviews are to follow.

What is the History of Pho?

A great number of people believe that pho (fuh) was derived from the French dish, pot-au-feu, which the French colonist introduced to the Vietnamese. The method of charring the onion and ginger for pho is similar to that process of charring onions for pot-au-feu. Let me suggest you read Andrea Q. Nguyen's story for a thorough examination of pho - Click Here . I am not here to re-event the wheel when it is so well documented.

Here Comes the Pho, Here Comes the Pho

The basic aromatics are star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds and a long simmer of beef bones are the heart of this broth.

Pho is typically served to you in a deep bowl which containss rice noodles (banh pho), the same type of noodle used in Pad Thai, reminiscent of linguini in shape. You can choose from an assortment of beef toppings and I usually pick the brisket and rare beef (which cooks submerged in the broth while you eat it). There can be scallions and onion in the broth when served.

You will be served a separate dish with accoutrements; cilantro, culantro and/or thai basil (remove the leaves from the stems and add to the pho), mung bean sprouts, sliced onions, scallions, wedges of lime, and sliced chili peppers (dip in broth so the natural oils come out or leave them in the broth if you really like hot).

On your table will be a condiment tray of hoisin sauces, srichacha sauce, chili and garlic paste, hot chili oil and nuoc mam (fish sauce).

You Are the Final Flavor Profile to your Pho

How tart, how hot, how salty and how sweet is based on what you add. I throw in the herbs, sprouts, onions, squeezes of lime, srichacha sauce, hoisin and a splash of nuoc mam. For your first foray with pho, go gently. What I mean, add just a small amount of the items you think you will like and then taste it, you can always add more but you can’t take it out.

From my Spaghetti Eating 101 Class, I apply the twirl method to eating the pho rice noodles. I twirl the noodles twisted in my chopsticks on the base of the flat Asian spoon and then I slurp it all up, loudly and with great pride. At a recent trip to Asian Court ,a Chinese woman complimented me on my fabulous chopstick skills when eating dim sum.

The number of pho restaurants are growing in Baltimore and I will be reviewing a selection of them in my next installment Edible Enlightenment Part 2.

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