Saturday, July 16, 2011

V is for Vietnam: My Pho is not your Pho

Vietnamese market

One of my oldest friends, Erika, is basically my go to person for everything and anything Asian. Her time dating a Vietnamese/Chinese guy basically made her an expert in my eyes (Sidenote: I heard the best way to learn about a culture is not to visit places but to have a lover from a different country, so I think , strictly for educational purposes only, I must date a French guy) . Well, let us go back to that time when I talked about my road trip to Arizona (Remember the Pad Thai post?).  Not only did I experience my first Pad Thai, which I loved, I also experience my first Pho, which I hated. Pho (not pronounced Phooo, but more like Phu) is basically a traditional Vietnamese beef soup with a bunch of fixings. I decided to be adventurous and try seafood Pho. It was filled with squishy, chewy, not cooked, sea critters that I did not like. But since it is “V” week, I thought I’d give Pho another chance in my life, and unlike most men I date, I was not disappointed.
Vietnam is peninsula nestled close to Laos, Cambodia, and China.  Vietnam’s geography and proximity to these other Asian countries has very much influenced their culture, and it is clearly reflected in their cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine reflects China’s use of stir-fries, noodles, and chopsticks, Cambodia’s egg noodles, coconut milk, and spices, and even its former invaders, Mongolia, use of beef (remember they are the ones that invented the hamburger).

It is said that Vietnam resembles a bamboo pole with a basket of rice at each end. Surrounded by water, its rivers provide the fertile soil need for the abundance of rice consumed in the country.  However, unlike the short-grain rice common in Chinese cooking, the Vietnamese prefer long-grain rice. Rice is not only eaten as a side dish, it is also transformed into other staple ingredients such as, rice wine, rice vinegar, rice paper wrappers, and noodles.
Rice fields 

Noodles are also quite important in a Vietnamese diet. There are basically four main types of rice noodles used in Vietnamese gastronomy:
  1. Banh pho- wide white noodle used in Pho
  2. Bun- basically rice vermicelli, used in spring rolls
  3. Banh hoi- a thinner version of bun noodles
  4. Mein/Bun Tao- cellophane noodles made from mung bean starch

Banh pho

But Vietnamese is sooooo much more than rice and noodles.  Equally as important to Vietnamese cuisine is nước mm (nuoc man), a fish sauce used in most Vietnamese dishes. It is made by layering anchovies in salt and then fermenting them in wooden barrels for about six months.

nuoc man

star anise 
Vietnamese food has a unique flavor that is created by a diverse range of herbs and spices such as, lemongrass, mint, coriander, Thai basil, soy sauce, star anise, shallots, green onions, cilantro, and limejuice. To provide a contrast to what can sometimes be quite spicy food, cool and crunchy foods, like cucumbers and bean sprouts, is usually incorporated into a dish.  A typical Vietnamese also includes some meat, such as beef, fish, pork, or chicken (nothing too crazy). However there is still a strong vegetarian tradition influenced by Buddhist values.

While the regions in Vietnam are noted to a have different flavor preferences (the North being mild and traditional, Central is spicy and complex, while the South is sweet and vibrant) all three areas share some fundamental features:
  1. Freshness- Meats and vegetables are usually only briefly cooked (such as done in Pho), to preserver their original textures and colors.
  2. Herbs- they are used in abundance in traditional cuisine.
  3. Broth and Soup based dishes are characteristics of all three regions.
  4. Presentation- Meals are usually very colorful and arranged in a visually pleasing manner.

I love finding different cultures proverbs, and much to my fancy, Vietnam has a plethora of food related proverbs. I have been doing a lot of volunteering at farmers market, so I decided to end with this:

“Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây”
When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree


As I mentioned earlier, I decided to give Pho another chance, and boy did it pay off! Pho is beef noodle soup, and Vietnam’s signature dish. It can be eaten any time, and place. It is also a fun dish to make for a large group, because it is one of those communal type of dishes I love. Basically, everyone is seated around a table with the condiments of the soup, and then you can put whatever you want into your own bowl of beef noodle soup. Thus no two bowls of pho are alike!

Arielle, who is almost as obsessed with food as I am, and I had a brilliant plan for a boring Tuesday night in Columbus. We decided to visit our local Vietnamese restaurant (Yea, we have one of those) and eat our tummys full while watching my favorite summer reality show….So You Think You Can Dance! We visited Pho Asian Noodle House & Grill located off Lane Ave.  The menu is extensive, but that doesn’t stop it from having a DRIVE THROUGH (How amazing, an Asian restaurant with a drive through, I love it). But we decided to go in, where we were promptly greeted by a sweet staff member who answered all of our questions without making me feel dumb. I ended up getting pho and Vietnamese spring rolls all for under $10. The food is cheap, delicious, and the place has a drive through. Definitely one for everyone to go try.

I recreated my meal Sunday night for my #1 moochers, my sister Jennifer and Emil. Like I always stress…GO TO AN ASIAN MARKET. I got everything but the meat there for under $10 ( I didn’t get meat there because they don’t sell any). The meal was exremly aromatic (it smelled like pho for days!) and flavorful. I also tried really hard to make the presentation nice, which I think I did pretty well. Except…my spring rolls. They looked horrid. I didn’t roll them tight enough. However they were quite tasty. The meal also took hours to make, but it was just hours of the broth simmering. Most of the work went into prep work. This is a fun dish for a large group, so next time you entertain I totally suggest this!

Chả Giò (spring rolls)

makes 20 rolls

wood ear mushrooms
cellophane noodles 
  • 1/4 lb. minced raw shrimp
  • 1/4 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 pound of bean sprouts
  • 1 medium carrots, grated
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup wood ear mushrooms, chopped finely 
  • 1/z oz. cellophane noodles 
  • 1 medium white onions, chopped
  • 1 package round rice paper
  • 1 eggs, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying
  • Salt and pepper 
1. Combine the ground pork, minced shrimp, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, mushrooms     and shallots, then set aside. 

2. Soak the cellophane noodles in a bowl of warm water for 15 to 30 minutes. 
3. Add the onions, black pepper and salt, then mix until well-blended, set them aside to rest for at least 15 minutes before rolling them, or if you choose, you can leave the mixture refrigerated overnight.
4. Begin to roll. I used this video to help me figure out how to roll a spring roll. 

5.  In medium heat, place about 2 cups or more of vegetable oil in a wok or deep sauce    pan. The oil should be at a depth of about 2 1/2 inches. When ready, Fry about eight rolls at a time until golden brown, about 15 minutes per batch. 
6. As you remove the rolls from the pan, drain them on paper towels. Add more oil when   necessary.  
7. Dip with sweet and sour sauce and enjoy.                                                            

Pho Bo
serves 6

Pho Broth and spice mix
  • 4 quarts Beef broth or Pho Broth mix ( I found the Pho Broth mix at the Asian market)
  • Pho Spices ( I found a spice mix at the Asian Market)
    • ginger root
    • lemon grass
    • cinnamon
    • peppercorns 
    • star anise
  • 1 large Onion
  • 1 pound sirloin tip, cut into thin slices
  • 8oz dried rice noodles 
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce 
  • Basil leaves, preferably Thai Basil 
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Limes
  • Jalapeno peppers (optional)
    1.In a large pot, combine the 10 quarts of water with the broth mix, Pho spices, and onion. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer for 1 hour.

    2.Strain the broth and return broth to the pot.

    3. Arrange bean sprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, and lime on platter.

    4.Soak the noodles in hot water to cover for 15 minuets or until soft. Drain and place in the broth. 

    rice noodles 

    5.Place the thin slices of beef in the hot soup. The meat should be on slightly cooked.
    Pass plates for guest to garnish on their own.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment