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Want the Lime Taste in Your Pho? Don’t Serve It Like This

November 5, 2010

Updated 11-08-10. 1x1.trans Want the Lime Taste in Your Pho? Don’t Serve It Like ThisThe first thing I do when served with a bowl of Vietnamese pho is to enjoy its fragrance steaming up out of the hot broth. The second thing I do is to take a sip of that broth to taste its goodness in its most unspoiled state. There are pho broths out there good enough for me not to have to enhance them with any sauces. Regardless of how good the broth is, though, I must have my squeeze of lime in my pho. To me the fresh tangy lemony flavor is an absolute must-have flavor in a bowl of pho bo, no exception. But this is where I have a problem with how lime and pho come together.

Take a look of the following pho photos gathered from around the Internet. You will find similar photos in many cookbooks and printed publications as well. What is common among these photos? Can you see a common no-no in all of them?

Yes, it’s the piece of lime in the bowl, peel, sometime seeds and all!

OK it’s very simple:

  1. You don’t want to cook the lime peel and seeds in the hot broth. Yuck!
  2. Do I use my fingers to snatch out the piece of lime and squeeze it to get the lime juice? Double yuck!

1x1.trans Want the Lime Taste in Your Pho? Don’t Serve It Like ThisThis post is not about judging the validity of recipes, ideas, ingredients or viewpoints of pho writers and bloggers on the sites above. And I’m not poking fun at photographers taking liberty and creative license with their culinary works. I respect all of that. But this is all about accuracy of the presentation, and conveying the subject matter in the proper manner. If we want to share, educate and inform one another about Vietnamese Pho, then let’s do it right. Providing good, accurate presentation of what pho is, is a very big part of this sharing, educating and informing. Pho veterans will like it, and pho newbies will appreciate it. We as publishers have at least some responsibilities here, right?

The bottom line: creative photography or not, let’s serve the lime where it belongs: right on the side of the pho bowl.

Oh one more thing. Some of these photos show way too little amount of pho broth in the bowl. To properly serve a bowl of pho, you need to use plenty of broth to cook all ingredients within the bowl, and that means most everything must be submerged except for the garnishing for the finishing touch.

By the way, many pho zealots agree with me when it comes to the taste of lime in pho. Check this out, as of this writing, this LovingPho.com running poll indicates that lime is the top item to enhance your pho experience. If you haven’t done so, take the poll and share with us your preference.

What's in your pho?

  • Culantro (66%, 214 Votes)
  • Thai basil (76%, 247 Votes)
  • Lime (80%, 260 Votes)
  • Bean sprouts (75%, 244 Votes)
  • Chiles (54%, 174 Votes)
  • Hot chili sauce (59%, 191 Votes)
  • Hoisin sauce for pho (43%, 141 Votes)

Total Voters: 325

Vote

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anthony January 25, 2011 at 12:39 am

Nice work man! For myself, I’m usually satisfied with the brothy beefness on it’s own without the lime, which I feel steers the bowl of in a bit of a different direction. Make sure there’s plenty of rau ngò gai!! Can’t get enough of that!

2 Cuong January 25, 2011 at 1:38 am

@anthony: Ahh brothy beefness on its own is a fine thing. If it’s good enough then I’d forego the tart taste of lime. You a ngò gai fan? Nice. For me, ngò gai (culantro) and basil, can’t get enough of them both. I just have to have them in small pieces and raw, so I add them as I work on my bowl. This way they stay fresh, somewhat uncooked in the broth.

By the way, love your work and photography, and thanks for stopping by.

3 anthony January 25, 2011 at 1:47 am

so true. I hate when they pre-boil your veggies. I always like ‘em raw and just slightly wilted by the hot broth. The crunch of the ngò gai is great with the soft noodles.

4 Cuong January 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

Bedtime for me in good old CA but I’ll sneak in a response lol. You’re in Vietnam right? Lucky devil. You get served with a larger than ever necessary pile of ngò gai most anywhere you go, any time of the year! Here in the states and during winter time, even in CA, restaurants won’t even serve ngò gai ’cause it costs them too much.

5 anthony January 25, 2011 at 2:01 am

haha. I’m back in California as well. Looks like I won’t be eat any Pho around here anytime soon! Bedtime!

6 khodre August 21, 2011 at 8:16 am

I completely disagree with you about the lime. The seeds should be kept out of the broth but the whole lime peel should definitely BE IN the broth. The complexity of flavors that the oil in the peel brings out is what really enhances the broth.

7 Cuong August 21, 2011 at 8:52 am

Hi khodre: For something like lime wedges in hot pho broth, it’s not a matter of disagreeing. Of course with your own pho you or anyone can do as you please. If you want to do it then certainly you have the right to do it, just like anyone can choose to dip sushi in Hoisin sauce instead of Japanese soy sauce. It’s a personal choice but it’s not recommended, not traditionally done, or just not good practice. My goal was and is to inform readers how to properly serve and enjoy pho. It may be a narrow band of acceptable practices (or maybe wide depending on points of view), but it is the way Vietnamese do it. I’ve seen people put egg noodle in pho broth and call it egg noodle pho. For me that’s a no no. Same as lime wedges in pho bowls.

Thanks for sharing your view.

8 Kim Mills February 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Cuong, I agree, but I am in desperate need of traditional viet recipes for starters, main and especially desert. HELP. Contact me.

9 Cuong February 20, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Hi Kim Mills: Traditional Viet recipes for starters, main and dessert? Hmmm, as I am all about pho I cannot personally help you with your request. But I can pass you on to Andrea Nguyen who can certainly help you. Just check out her website at Viet World Kitchen.

10 Paul February 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I am nuts about the Hoisin, but I dont put it in the broth. I actually dont put much of anything in the broth. I taste it first to see if I need to. But I do unapologetically squeeze a dot of Hoisin onto each moutful of noodles dangling from my chopsticks before greedily inhaling them. And that is with consistency, I eat the noodles in my pho more quickly than any other food. I find I often need a second bowl because I couldnt pause long enough to taste the first!

11 Cuong March 7, 2012 at 1:17 am

Paul: Thanks for sharing your pho rituals. You may want to order a side banh pho noodle, or just call extra banh pho. Otherwise you’re wasting all that pho broth goodness. I hate it when that happens ;)

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