So Pho-king Good Pho You
I know. Not very original. But I’m not done yet.
Pho shizzle. Pho sho. Are you pho real? What the pho?
I am Vietnamese to my very core. There’s no wrong time to have a hot bowl of pho. I don’t give a damn if it’s 100 degrees outside. Don’t want yours? I’ll eat it. Pho is comfort food. It’s good for the soul. It’s fuel for the sick. The mac ‘n cheese, the mashed potatoes, the chicken noodle soup of my people. And for goodness sake it’s pronounced FUH.. like fugly. Say FOE and I will not hesitate to take your bowl from you and ban you from the pleasure of this complex and beautiful molecular entity until you learn to respect the FUH.
Here’s a little history lesson. Up until 1954, Vietnam was incorporated into the federation that was French Indochina. The influence of the French in Vietnam’s culture can be seen in the architecture, the signature french drip coffee and condensed milk and famous noodle soup. It’s is believed that pho is derived from the French’s “pot-au-feu” as both use beef and onions as a soup base. After 1954, Vietnam split into northern and southern regions. The North has a simpler version of pho while the South has a more complex ingredients list and comes with the plate of bean sprouts, basil, chili and lime garnish we are used to seeing.
Pho can be made from a blend of many spices- cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fennel, star anise and coriander. I like to toast these and toss them into my broth. I also char my onion and ginger and add leg bones and neck bones to my soup base. The more bone marrow, the better. In 1975, refugees started fleeing Vietnam (my father being one of them) and brought their culture and cuisine along with their hopes for a better future in America. The Tampa Bay area has many Vietnamese residents and restaurants. My favorite places to go in Tampa are Saigon Deli and Pho Quynh (the Hillsborough Ave. location). I’m usually staying at my parent’s house in St. Petersburg when I visit and Ben Thanh is the place to go. Every restaurant, every family, every grandmother has their own pho recipe. I tend to favor those most similar to grandma’s cooking. Ben Thanh is that place. I have been going to this restaurant for years and I’m very lucky that it is only a ten minute drive away. Also featured in this post are photos of one of my favorite starter dishes, banh beo. Banh beo is a plate of small steamed rice cakes. At its simplest, it is topped with mung bean, chopped dried shrimp, scallions and crispy fried shallots. It’s accompanied by a small bowl of nuoc mam, a dipping sauce made of fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, garlic and diced thai chili.
A good bowl of pho stands alone. It is said that the more you need to add to it, the worse the quality of broth. So I always taste the broth as it comes and add my own concoction of sriracha, lime and hoisin. I rip the pieces of fresh basil in my hands and crumble the bean sprouts. All the better to fit in my spoon.
Ben Thanh Restaurant
4200 62nd Ave N, Pinellas Park, FL 33781