Denise J. Dubé
Soup truly nourishes my soul and warms my heart, no matter what the season. Pho, a Vietnamese staple, is a personal favorite. My San Franciscan sister-in-law, while in Boston a dozen years ago, introduced me to this exotic elixir at Pho Pasteur in Cambridge. A heaping dish, filled with bean sprouts, basil, lime, and a soup spoon, are first brought to the table. A giant-sized white bowl, filled with steaming hints of anise, ginger, cardamom and coriander, arrive a few minutes later. Thin slices of rare flank steak float in the broth and begin cooking before my eyes. Noodles swirl around the bowl, taunting you to catch them with a spoon or chopsticks, if you dare. The sprouts, basil and lime let me individualize every bowl. Sriracha and hoisin sauces add a bit more spice to this favorite culinary potion.
My husband, Jim, and I revisited Pho Pasteur a few times in the following few years, but my real introduction to Pho came while staying at the Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. I ate it for breakfast – and wherever else I stayed in Vietnam. This common street food, served by sidewalk vendors, is commonly eaten at breakfast and sometimes for lunch. After watching how the bowls were washed and reused, I didn’t have the courage to try the vendors, but I did partake in hotels from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.
Finding the best pho is now a game, whether it’s local or somewhere within the United States. At home I frequent Pho 88 in Lowell. My daughter prefers Pho Da Lat, only a few hundred feet up the street.
While in Orlando I ate at another Pho 88. The soup, and the rice paper wrapped spring rolls and the bánh xèo (a type of soy pancake filled with meat or fish) were incredible.
The restaurant’s name left me with questions. Was Pho 88 a franchised chain? Nope, apparently 88 is considered a lucky number, so finding Pho 88 in Westchester County, New York, Orlando, Florida or Lowell, Massachusetts isn’t surprising.
I’ve thought about making this soup; heaven knows there are plenty of online recipes. They’re time consuming and the listed spices are always different. For now, I’ll keep going to Le’s (formerly Pho Pasteur), Pho 88 or Pho Dalat – unless someone has a killer recipe to share … Finding Pho also appears on www.graciespoon.com