With so many food trends circulating the blogosphere, it’s hard to keep up, let alone narrow down; which ones are actually good and not just a bunch of overhyped mumbo jumbo. Enter: Pho. Pronounced like the word “uh” rather than “oh,” Pho has been making great strides in terms of gaining popularity in the food world. Starting out as a quintessential dish for families in Vietnam; the original version of the dish has been around for centuries.
In its purest form, the dish consists of a savoury broth, slices of beef, and slurpy rice noodles. Nowadays, many different variations of the delicious Vietnamese cuisine can be seen popping up everywhere from hip city neighbourhoods to a North Carolina-based food truck; which happened to go on to win the Food Network reality series; The Great Food Truck Race. So what is it about this dish that is taking the world by storm? Well, we have some theories.
While the actual process of making the broths and noodles that go into the dish are far from simple, the guidelines of what makes this dish “pho” are bringing picky eaters together, and it’s the simplicity of these guidelines that’s serving as a huge a component. For the picky eaters of the world, the dish’s simple and easily adjustable guidelines make it easy for them to find a version that they don’t have to make a million modifications to, like so many picky eaters are used to, leaving them with peace of mind over “not having to make a fuss” and a delicious meal. Even people who don’t identify as picky eaters may find themselves craving this simple dish when all they really want is some comforting, hearty cuisine. Really, the marriage of soup, protein, and noodle is just irresistible no matter what the reason.
IT’S EASY TO MAKE COOL FUSION VERSIONS OF IT
While its original simplicity appeals to a whole lot of people; the simple recipe also makes it pretty easy to alter into some crazy concoctions. The dish’s versatility is what has arguably made it so popular in the high-end restaurant and foodie crowds. From a vast array of garnishes at some restaurants, which range from shaved carrots to thai basil; to alterations in the broth and protein as well, this dish has seen many alterations around the world.
Take the Seattle restaurant, Crazy Pho Cajun, where the broth is served with the goodness that is cajun spices; a blend of flavours anyone who has been exposed to the flavours of Louisiana has come to love. In addition, they substitute the classic beef garnish with spicy andouille sausage and mounds of juicy crawfish. Although the purists and the picky may not be lining up to go to a place like this; this restaurant and other places like it serve up something special for the curious pho lovers of the world.
THE BROTH JUST SOAKS ANY BIT OF SPICE RIGHT UP
If you’re going out to eat with someone who just can’t get enough spicy food, look no further. Although the broth of this tasty dish has little to no spice, the liquid state of the broth allows for maximum spice soaking capacity. Since most pho joints offer a variety of sriracha, chili oil, and other spicy additives, kicking the spice level up one, or maybe 10 notches, is as easy as a few squirts or drops. The hot broth soaks in every bit of the spice, unlike in situations involving meat, where one bite of hot wing is a spicy surprise and the next is just unseasoned chicken if you’re not careful. No, in this situation that broth welcomes every drop of spice down to the very bottom of the bowl that contains it, making this dish the perfect fit for adding some heat into your life (although, some argue that you are supposed to dip your noodles in the sauce, and not add it directly in the soup!)
THE NAME IS OH SO PHO-N TO PUN WITH
Taste arguments aside, the name might just be as delicious as the dish itself. The name “pho” is short, sweet, and easy to play on when naming a restaurant for it, so if you’re a pun lover like me, this just makes dining at a pho-based eatery that much more inviting. Take the restaurant name “Crazy Pho Cajun,” for starters; it sounds kind of like “crazy occasion,” does it not? The world, it’s a beautiful place.
There are probably hundreds of other piffy pho restaurant names floating out there in the gracious pun world, but my personal favourite hits close to home. The aforementioned North Carolina-based food truck, which serves homemade dumplings and pho to hungry Southern city-dwellers, also boasts the wonderful name, “Dump Pho King Truck.” So, was I drawn to this place back when I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, having never even heard of pho, purely due to this beautiful homophonous name? Yes, yes, I was, and I haven’t stopped loving the flavourful dish the awesome girls who run the truck introduced to me ever since.
IT’S PERFECT IN ALL WEATHERS
Although all soups are great, especially in the winter, or on a cold rainy day when you just crave that warm feeling in your belly, pho has most of those other soups beat for its efficiency in the summer as well. While it does have that hot broth that can get you through a thousand winters; this broth is also very very light. It isn’t oily, like in most chicken noodle soups, or pureed, like in tomato; it’s just heavy enough so that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating seasoned water; but light enough to tide your hunger over in the summer if you’re not really bothered by its temperature. But who are we kidding? With its amazing flavour, how can one say no to that in any weather, even if the temperature does kind of bother them?
IT’S LIKE TWO MEALS IN ONE
Another glorious thing about this dish is that it’s essentially two meals wrapped up into one delicious package. You’ve got your soup covered with that amazingly versatile broth, but then with the ingenious addition of noodles, which are actually called pho, this dish is like chicken noodle soup with a much needed makeover. In lieu of those tiny chunks of flat, flavourless noodles that can be observed floating aimlessly in a bowl of chicken noodle soup, pho showcases its own star, the fantastic, lightweight, and oh so long and fun to slurp rice noodle. Together, pho is like your favourite soup and pasta got married and had a wonderful, mouth-wateringly garnished baby.
YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH FIND IT ANYWHERE
Now that it has grown so popular; restaurants boasting a specialization in pho are now almost as popular as your local Chinese takeout or pizza place. The trend became quite popular with the “hipster” scenes in towns like New York and Montreal, but since then almost every type of person living outside of Vietnam wants a taste of their famous cuisine; so restaurants have spread accordingly. Now, no one is saying that every single pho place you come across is going to be memorable; or even authentic, but if the trend keeps growing; perhaps in a few years there will be at least one that meets these standards close to all of us.
Thankfully, at almost any pho restaurant you go to, one bowl of pho will probably cost you less than $10. Perhaps not at an outrageously fancy restaurant where they put sliced foie gras in it rather than sliced beef, but if you’re looking at just the simple stuff, and maybe even with a few garnishes to choose from on the side, you definitely won’t be breaking the bank to dine on what is arguably the world’s finest cuisine. In fact, a good rule of thumb if you’re really looking for the authentic stuff and nothing else, is to check the prices. If the menu says it’s over $15 and there’s no description, chances are there’s some fancy stuff in that pho.
THE NOODLES ARE LITERALLY SHOWERED OUT
Yes, you read that correctly, the one of the most popular and speedy processes of making the rice noodles, AKA pho, involves “showering” them into a pot. Although that might not be the technical term; that’s certainly what it looks like; since the contraption used to separate the white blob-looking noodle dough into the actual individual noodles looks remarkably like a shower-head. This fact makes it that much easier to make the argument that pho is an actual gift that has been showered on us from the heavens themselves, and for that, we should be thankful. If you’re really lucky, you might even stumble upon one of these machines in action and be graced with an actual pho shower; making this comparison all the more veritable.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO FEEL SELF-CONSCIOUS WHEN EATING IT
While some messy foods, like ribs and poutine, can be eaten in a dainty way if you’re really that determined to save face; pho does not allow any exceptions whatsoever. When you’re eating it with friends; in the words of High School Musical’s Troy Bolton, “you’re all in this together.” As you and your friends sit around the table; a bowl of brothy noodles sitting in front of each of you; as soon as you try to twirl those noodles onto a spoonful of broth for the perfect bite, you will almost definitely get some broth on your pants. Then there’s the inevitable loud slurping of the noodles and broth as you put too big of a spoonful of both into your mouth and refuse to give in. All in all, this food is not the perfect date food if you’re both self-conscious; but it certainly is the perfect food for uniting friends of all types on a quest to finish those bowls of pho down to the last drop of broth; no matter the messy consequences.
IT COVERS ALL THE NECESSARY FOOD GROUPS
Pho is essentially a food pyramid in bowl form, if you think about it; as long as the fruit part of the pyramid has been replaced with a broth section. You’ve got your protein, with the beef or chicken or whatever meaty substance your local pho provider has chosen, even tofu for the vegetarians. Then, of course, you’ve got your carbs; in the form of those lovely, showered out rice noodles; there to give you some energy and fill you up all at the same time. And, of course, your fats and oils served up in the required low quantity within that “good enough to be a fruit substitute” broth. Just ask for milk as your drink wherever you go to eat it and you’re all set!
IT’S ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD FOR YOU
Contrary to most delicious foods, one substantial serving of pho is usually less than 400 calories; which is pretty great considering that the calorie intake you’re getting is actually pretty nutritious; unlike those empty calories you would get from something like a cheeseburger. If you really want to go through a full-on healthy meal with your pho, look for a veggie option. The vegetables possible; from carrot to baby bok choy, can provide vitamins A through D; and if you opt out of your preferred meat, some vegetables also offer a lower-calorie source of protein. Plus, if you don’t finish the broth itself; maybe even take it home with you to use on another occasion; it cuts back on the sodium the pho provides. Yes, the broth can be a little high in sodium; but all the other quality health features offered through a bowl of pho still make it preferable to something like a salad (which still harbours a good amount of sodium through the dressing).
AWESOME HANGOVER CURE
The goodness that is pho can also be wrapped up into a great little hangover curing package. First, there’s those rice noodles again, providing carbs for energy as well as something to soak up all the alcohol left in you; or whatever the reason is that everyone opts for carbs as their “day after” meal. On top of that, the hot broth has the same curing qualities to hangover you as a bowl of soup has to a sick person. Filling, warming, and delicious; the broth may as well be your favourite liquid cleaning product; as it gets rid of all the bad things in your body that the noodles just couldn’t soak up. And if the flawed science isn’t enough, take me; for example, a person who’s go-to hangover cure is pho when it’s accessible. Whichever logic you choose to follow, trust me, it serves its purpose.
IT JUST LOOKS GREAT
While I’ve been going on and on about how delicious pho tastes, it’s an absolute necessity to add that pho can just look so pretty too, especially for all you food bloggers out there. The white noodles just pop against the canvas that is the caramel coloured broth; and the slices of beef, fanned over the bowl of heaven, with the slightest bit of pink showing; are like little pink decorative pillows with a brown trim. Add the common bright green garnishes of lime, scallion; jalapeno or bird’s eye chili peppers, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded meal both in nutrients and colours. Plus, you know you’ve gotta snap a pic of you and a friend slurping those pretty noodles up like the classy and totally refined duo you are.
WHEN IT’S MADE RIGHT, YOU CAN TASTE THE LOVE
The thing about pho is that it’s not just about the taste once you really get to know the cuisine. As mentioned earlier, despite its simple set of ingredients; the making of these ingredients is full of laboured love. A friend of mine’s mother will stay up all night making the broth, making sure the flavours are just right; and letting it simmer just long enough so that in the morning it is absolute perfection. Then there’s the addition of the noodles; or the making of the noodles if the person making it is that hardcore and has the right tools; but either way, they’ll make sure those noodles are cooked until perfection. After they garnish it with whatever meats or vegetables you prefer; the moment you dig in will be unlike any other; especially if you know just how much work whoever made it put into it. In these situations; with that really authentic stuff that every food lover craves; you can taste a little bit of the love and hard work in each bite; on top of all of those positively scrumptious flavours.
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