Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pho 24

Do you know what the fast food of Vietnam is? My guess is it's got to be pho. Sound like a local and call it "fuhr" with a very soft "r" almost like "fuh". Pho is available just about everywhere and there is even a very good chain restaurant called Pho 24 that sells it. A bowl costs about $1 and most people choose to eat it out rather than to make it at home, so I'm told.

Pho is rice noodle soup and it's not so easy to find really great versions. It's basically four elements--broth, noodles some kind of meat and fresh garnishes that often consist of fresh herbs and chilies. The quality of the broth is key. It can be flavored with spices like star anise and cinnamon or not. It varies all over Vietnam but the beef version is famous here in Hanoi.

Pho 24 is a clean, bright and friendly chain of pho shops and a bowl of pho here costs $1.25. Why 24? They say it takes 24 hours to make and includes 24 ingredients. The balance of flavors and textures are what make it so satisfying--the herbal mint and basil, the crunch of bean sprouts and onions warming in the broth, the chew of the tender noodles and the earthy broth. The not-so-secret ingredients are a splash of fish sauce and squeeze of lime added at the table. They round out the flavors and give it a tang and savory quality that makes it crave-worthy. How I wish it were the fast food of America too!