The first thing which comes to mind when mentioning Vietnamese cuisine is Phở. It is one simple dish which has an entire country’s food resting on its slender shoulders. When doing a trip through the landscape of Vietnam, from the North to the South, we had the opportunity to relish the history behind this simple dish and about the nation which is so crazy about it.
The First Impressions and Origins:-
The streets of Hanoi are lined from one end to the other with vendors selling Phở. The morning breakfast is incomplete without it and if you aren’t the early riser, you may as well miss the early bowl of fresh Phở. So whether pronouncing it fuh, fur, fuuhh, this is one dish which is going to leave you with a lasting impression on your Vietnam trip. And I sure had to practice and get my pronunciations right so as not to be be stopped on the street and be corrected by a local.
The origins of this humble dish are quite interesting. Some say that the French Officer’s lover was asked to prepare a pot-au-feu, the classic French beef stew and she couldn’t get her flavors right and use the local spices and ‘feu’ and behold the Vietnamese Dish was born.
Contrary to what I thought, Phở actually refers to the noodles and not the soup. The Northern Vietnam version i.e. Hanoi from where the dish originated usually uses the flat rice noodles and lot less ingredients than their counterparts in the South. The other necessary terms to know are the bò (beef) and gà (Chicken) so you know correctly if to order the phở bò (beef) or phở gà (chicken).
Ingredients and Variations:-
When cruising through the streets of Hanoi, a lot of people drive their bikes right into the shops, ordering themselves a bowl and slurping it right on their bikes as they go about their day. The best way to judge Phở is by its broth. The broth should be clear and should pack a lot of flavor with the Cinnamon, Star Anise, Cloves, Cardamom and fennel, charred onions and ginger being the most essential spices. The rice noodles follow in the broth after that.
Next comes the meat. Usually in phở gà an entire chicken in used but for the phở bò the broth is usually done by simmering either the bones, oxtail or flank with the meat in the Phở when served, very minimal. When served Phở, you get a lot of herbs for garnishes on the side, but an insider secret don’t immediately go for the garnishes and actually sip the broth before messing with the dish. The herbs were usually some very interesting ones which we had not had before like the sawgrass, a quite prickly, subtly bitter and tangy at the same time. The others were the Cilantro, Culantro, Scallions, Basil, and Thai Chilies for that adding of extra spiciness and Bean Sprouts to round off that crunchiness to the Phở with a wedge of lime to provide the tangy taste. The other sauces to round off a bowl of Phở is with Hoisin, Sriracha or Vinegar which shall be provided.
Is there a way to eat Phở?
There is no better way to eating Phở than being messy and it was a great learning experience. Armed with the chopsticks in one hand and soup spoon in the other, the best way is to sip the broth first as you work your way with the noodles with the chopsticks. I was told it’s actually polite to slurp as deliciously as you like with your mouth close to the bowl, so that all the aroma hits you right through.
- The first lesson from a local was to control the urge to splatter my Phở with the sauces and keep it a minimal and then dash it the flavors accordingly to the taste. Phở is best when sticking to its minimalistic flavors.
- The next best thing was I could actually slurp and lick the end of the bowl without anyone so much as giving me the stares. In fact it is considered polite to do that and compliments the chef.
- A Phở is nothing without its broth, its entire life and soul. So the best is to give the Phở its necessary due before messing with its basic flavors.
A dish so simple and a dish packing in it so much exquisiteness in flavor, it definitely holds true to have been redefining Vietnamese Cuisine. Unless you’ve done your research, probably the first dish out of your mouth when mentioning Vietnam would be Phở and yes it is so much worth when had first-hand. Phở has gone global and so has its humble origins. There are a lot more restaurants serving this spectacular dish with Phở 24, being most notable among them, but the best Phở is served by the family run establishments along the streets of Hanoi.