Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho
Help! I'm trying like heck to enjoy pho, but my one and only time was a disaster. I live in New Orleans (which has a deep-rooted Vietnamese community) and I went to one of the longest-ruuning, highest-rated restaurants. The Banh Mi was okay, and the beef stew I sampled was pretty good, but the bowl of actual pho did not agree with me. The broth had very little flavor, and every now-and-then there would be a strong hit of an herb/ spice with a strong, lingering 'sour-cinnamon' flavor. Did I just get a bad bowl, or am I just not cut out for it? God knows I wanted to like it. I have friends that are addicted to it, and I went to one of the best restaurants I could find.
If I am not one cut out for pho, are there other Vietnamese dishes I should try closer to what I'm used to? I'm an American who appreciates Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. As I said, Banh Mi and the beef stew I tried were successful experiments. Just wonderin what else I should try next time I go (this restaurant has an EXTENSIVE menu, so I'm sure whatever you recommend would have a good shot of being on there).
Thanks for any help!
@Mei: It's unfortunate that your first bowl of pho was a bad experience. What you described may be a one-off bad bowl, if you say this restaurant is well known. Did you tell your friend(s) that there's something "funny" tasting in your bowl? Or maybe even let them taste some broth themselves? Or you may have informed the restaurant that this is your first time, and your bowl doesn't taste quite right. I'm sure they would have given you another bowl, or a cup of broth for you to try out, to make sure they didn't serve you bad pho. Most Vietnamese restaurants are eager to attract new customers and this is totally within reason to expect a restaurant to treat a new customer. many restaurants would love to receive such feedback from customer so they can fix their own mistakes.
Other than that, I would say go try another bowl, maybe at the same place, maybe a different place. If you still don't like it the second or third time around, then maybe pho is not for you. Having said that, I'm reluctant to conclude that pho is not for you, as pho is too easy to like in my opinion.
If you appreciate Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods, then there are many other Viet dishes that you will surely like. How about some other noodle in broth like hủ tiếu (which uses the same rice noodle) or mì (which is egg noodle), each with various meat and/or seafood toppings? How about any of the broken rice dishes ̣(cơm tấm) or bún dishes (vermicelli) with grilled meats? If you can share this restaurant's name then I can look at its menu online and give you some suggestions. Let me know and good luck Mei.
Thanks for the response! The restaurant in question was Pho Tau Bay. You can find its complete menu here : http://menuorleans.com/pho-tau-bay-vietnamese-cuisine . FWIW, me and my dining companion bought three dishes: the BM2 (Banh Me Thit) Vietnamese 'po boy', BK2 (Banh Mi Bo Kho) beef stew-- both were good... The issue was with the pho, itself -- P2 (Pho Nam w/ well-done beef).
Thanks a bunch for the help!
@Mei: The menu looks typical and the restaurant seems reliable, especially with the many positive reviews it has. If both you and your companion are newbies at this pho thing, then I would suggest you go with a more knowledgeable friend the next time, or try several different times and even different places for pho. Then you'll be able to tell if it is for you. Much like every other foods that you didn't grow up with, I don't think there is any other way to help you make your decision. Good luck and have fun.
By the way, don't feel "bad" if you don't like pho. Many of us Viet do love to eat it, but at the same time there are many others who don't like it.
I'm interested in making a chicken pho. How would I do this and still achieve a clear broth with all the pho flavors?
@Christina: Chicken pho broth is relatively easy to keep clear. The challenge of making clear broth is normally with beef pho and not chicken pho, so I wouldn't worry to much. The key thing is to start making some. Have you looked at any recipe for chicken pho and tried to make some? If not, I would recommend checking out the chicken pho recipes in this article Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself, or of course a quick Google search will give you many options as well. It's ok to not make the best chicken the first time, but you'll make a better pho the second or third time. Most recipes have pretty good instructions so just follow them the best you can. Let me know if you run into any problem. Good luck.
Thank you for the link. My husband and son love Pho. I will be making a pot of this tasty stock this week. How would I go about making a Pho seafood stock? Not sure what to try first.
Christina: Glad to hear you'll be making some pho yourself, and best of luck wih it! I'm sure you'll do fine. With respect to seafood pho, I have something to say about that 😉
Seafood pho is not a Vietnamese dish. There never was and never is a seafood pho. The closest thing we have to this "seafood pho" is Hu tieu with seafood, which uses the same banh pho noodle but has an entirely different broth and taste profile. Restaurants in the US serve this concoction called seafood pho to satisfy American customer requests for something "healthier" or maybe "non-meat", and they pretty much use whatever beef or chicken pho or any other broth they may have, then put in seafood toppings to make seafood pho. There is no real standard seafood pho broth as a tradition. If someone claims to have it then he/she just made it up in the past few years to cater to local demands. I'm not a fan of seafood pho, and hu tieu works just fine for me.
So now that you know this, you can use pretty much whatever you want to create your own seafood pho. Most popular topping ingredients include imitation crab, squid, shrimp, fish balls or fish cake (Chinese or Japanese style). Or you can try to make Hu tieu with seafoods. Let us know how you make out.
I really enjoyed your article. Informative and thorough. People don't take time to make quality food in time honored tradition. It's a shame, because they are missing out on both flavor and nutrition. It can be very economical too.
Making broth need not be difficult. Just takes some shrewd planning. You can use all sorts of vegetable scraps (like the stuff left over when you peel veggies) and leftover bones from roasted meat (no parboiling required w/ roasted foods), even seafood like leftover shells. Just toss the ingredients a pot of water with your desired spices and herbs bring to a boil and allow to simmer. I prefer to use an electric slow cooker and leave it on unattended for 8 hrs+. It can't get any easier than that! Don't forget add a splash of vinegar to leach out the calcium from the bones. After this "treatment" the bones get soft and rubbery! 😉