Excerpt from Newspaper reviews
How to Enjoy Vietnamese Noodle Soup!
By Justin Bill
Summer is Pho season for me. On a hot day, sitting over a bowl of Vietnam's answer to fast food, I get a definite hit of Saigon or Bangkok -- the smell of the spices, the tough-looking guys sitting around playing cards in their shades, the crazy Vietnamese covers of Madonna songs blasting away in stereo.
Pho (pronounced "fuh" -- say foot without the t) is beef soup with a diference. It's usually found in specialty restaurants that offer little else besides elaborate iced coffees and dessert drinks. Toronto's Dundas Chinatown hosts several fine Pho houses which serve up their own variations on the dish; they're all bright, informal, noisy and tolerant -- short on ambience but great places to bring kids.
Some other Pho houses prize quantity over quality, but these locations insists on a rich, well-spiced broth and still give you more than you can possibly consume for about $5. I've never seen anyone finish an extra large bowl of the house special (#1 on most menus). The special, available in large, larger and largest, is the best bet for those haven't tried Pho before -- it contains a bit of everything. The 10 or 20 other varieties on the menu are just different combinations of the same ingredients.
Pho begins with the boiling of beef shinbones in a huge cauldron until the rich gelatinous consomme is concentrated -- this takes about 24 hours. It is then spiced up with a delicate balance of herbs, spices and salts. When you place your order, the cook adds slices of raw or cooked beef (depending on the order) to a bowl of the broth, on top of rice noodles, then sprinkles it all with sliced onion, chopped green onion and fresh coriander.
The soup comes with a side plate of garnished that you can squeeze, sprinkle and otherwise use to jazz up your own Pho. When the steaming soup arrvies, take a chopstick and push the slice of raw steak you'll usually find on top under the noodles, to cook in the hot soup, and add what you like from the garnish plate. This varies with place and season, but typically includes a slice of lime, crunchy bean sprouts, oriental basil and Vietnamese mint. I squeeze the lime into my soup and nibble at the sprouts, and a dash of the red pepper and garlic sauce or fish sauce found at every table really brings out the flavor of the coriander (You'll probably want to avoid the tiny, green peppers though. They're very, very hot.) Then grab a spoon and plunge in. It's a heady mix of tropical oriental and French cuisine, light but at the same time hearty.
Regular eye Food & Drinks illustrator Thach Bui has this advice: "To eat the mint and basil, pinch a single leaf and add it to a spoonful of noodle, beef and broth and slurp it into your mouth. Pick up a green pepper, bit off a little portion and chew along with the soup. It won't kill you."
As with Thai and Indian food, a cold lager goes well with a bowl of Pho, but it is properly followed by a creamy Napoleonic French-Vietnamese coffee. The back of the menu will contain a long list of dessert drinks, featuring the oriental equivalents of ice cream sodas and the like, but the iced coffee is always the star beverage.
The dark coffee slowly drips down from a metal, filtered container placed on top of a tall glass with sweetened condensed milk in the bottom. An ice bucket and tongs and a long spoon are provided, and when the coffee has finally dripped through, stir the milk and coffee mixture and add eight or nine ice cubes. Then slowly sip the strong, sweet elixir as you digest the enormous meat, sit with friends, smoke (the Vietnamese seem very relaxed about chain smoking) and chat. After all, Pho is phun.