It may be totally obvious, but TnT’s Excellent Vietnam Food-Venture would not be complete without a posting on pho. If one dish were chosen to represent the entire nation of Vietnam, it would probably be pho (pronounced like “foot” without the “t”). Pho is a tasty noodle soup with a flavorful broth of stewed veal bones complemented with slices of beef, pork, chicken, Vietnamese meatballs, or tripe. As with Banh Xeo, pho is served with a large side plate of mint, cilantro, Asian basil, bean sprouts, sliced peppers, and various greens.
Many travelers have heard that they should avoid fresh vegetables on the road, especially fresh leafy greens. There is truth to this fear, but it’s this side dish of fresh herbs and greens which really makes pho (and many other Vietnamese dishes) pop. We are diving in and enjoying it all.
Tony’s Favorite: Pho Bo
My personal favorite is the simple pho bo, which usually combines a basic, tangy pho broth served with thinly sliced strips of beef. I love to pile on the herbs and spice the soup up with all the condiments including nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce), hot chili paste, and a squeeze of fresh kalamansi juice. (Kalamansi is a Southeast Asian citrus fruit which tastes like a cross between lime and mandarin orange.) When I’m done with my pho bo, it looks like a soup salad combo in a bowl.
Thomas’ Favorite: Pho Bo Kho
Pho Bo Kho, also called Vietnamese beef stew, feels like pho made for a central European palate. I like to think of it as Vietnam’s answer to goulash. This savory tomato-based soup with chunks of butter-soft beef and crispy carrots is my favorite pho dish.
Tony, of course, disagrees with my comparison. Looking at the ingredients, I can understand why. Ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, 5-spice powder, star anise and curry don’t usually make it into a goulash, let alone annatto seeds which are partially responsible for the deep-red color of pho bo kho. Top it with the typical collection of Vietnamese herbs and you must be wondering where the hell I got the idea of goulash.
Good question. Perhaps, it’s the gravy-like broth or the big chunks of stewed carrot, somehow it just reminds me of good old Europe. But once the soup is “dressed up” with fish sauce, Thai basil and cilantro, it takes me right back to the little Vietnamese pho kitchen.