Phở Bò Beef Noodle Soup – 245 of 365

Phở Bò

I know.  I know.  You are shaking your heads and rolling your eyes because you stopped by to sample some more fertile eggs or grilled locusts yet here we are slurping down some mundane soup we’ve seen before.  Though filling and decent, a bowl of phở bò admittedly ranks low on my list of foods I’d actively seek out when much more complex delicacies simmer, boil, fry, dry, and steam on a maladorous sidewalk nearby.  Bear with me though for going back to the basics for just one meal seems a proper detour to reflect on all the knowledge and new tastes we’ve acquired along this most interesting food trail.

So why are we revisiting this mundane commonplace food?  You see, once upon a time there lived a guy in Hanoi with picky tastes and a disdain for anything spawning in a street food joint of dubious health inspection standards.   After all this is the same guy who journeyed across India eating only hermetically sealed potato chips and cookies for fear of some serious stomach revenge from the more local treats.

Hunger in Hanoi eventually became a huge motivator when I discovered Frosted Flakes and ham sandwiches do not a proper diet make.  I hesitantly waded into the shallow end of the food pool by inching closer towards the corner phở parlor for breakfast.  And when I say hesitantly, I mean this was a three week process.  I’d linger and stare each morning while evaluating the plethora of possible outcomes.   One morning I must have lingered just a tad too long for the owner grabbed my arm and before I knew I was squatting on a light blue stool maybe as tall as my shins.

Not even a minute later a piping hot bowl steamed in front of me just adding more unneeded water vapor to the already soaking wet air in this open front, fan cooled joint.   And I am thinking to myself what the [insert your favorite expletive] is this mess?  Oh hell no.  Chunks of raw meat floated around like bloody rafts.   Raw meat?  Is this lady trying to kill me?   Only later would I discover adding raw meats alongside the cooked pieces is a Hanoian style.  Why not just cook it all to begin with?  At the time all I could do was take a chopstick and frantically stir all that bloody mess down into the broth in a last ditch attempt to cook it.   And yes, the redness mercifully does cook itself through.

The standard altar with offerings to the deceased such as cigarettes, cola, and cookies was parked in the corner near my table so I prayed every time to the food Buddha to keep my insides safe as this food of unknown origins passed through my lips to the scary beyond.  Obviously it all ended well and beef pho became part of my regular diet.  And when I say regular, I mean all the time since this was about all I had grown to trust at the time.

I never got sick from it, just sick of it needless to say.  Fast forward two years, and this bowl of beef soup right near my apartment in Saigon flooded me with memories of once upon a time.  It’s interesting how a simple taste can bring us right back to a different place.  And thankfully this joint serves it all cooked with no need to frantically stir away that bloody rawness.

Heaps of cumin-like rice paddy herb, Thai basil and coriander added earthiness with sliced birdseye chili peppers infusing the burn.  Vinegar and fresh lime juice add sour to the savory broth derived from boiled meat bones.  Yes, it was good.   This fix should last another six months or so but more importantly I now realize just how far I have come.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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