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white guy eats foreign foods
Sunday, July 09, 2006
  White Guy Eats Foreign Foods - Pho Soup

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On the way home from Vloggercon last month we stopped in Langley, BC for the night. We finally found some pho soup:

Pho soup is a traditional Vietnamese noodle dish. It is served as a bowl of white rice noodles in clear beef broth with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket), tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken leg, chicken breast, other chicken organs (heart, liver, etc.), and other ingredients such as green onions, white onions, coriander leaves, ngo gai ("saw leaf herb"), mint, basil, lemon or lime, bean sprouts, and chile peppers. The last four items are usually provided on a separate plate, which allows customers to adjust the soup's flavor as they like. Some sauces such as hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and the popular Thai hot sauce, Sriracha, are popular additions as well. Phở can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The broth is generally made by boiling beef (and sometimes also chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, and spices, and takes several hours to prepare. Spices include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, and ginger. The noodles, called bánh phở in Vietnamese, are traditionally cut from wide sheets of fresh rice noodles similar to Chinese shahe fen, although dried noodles (also called "rice sticks") may also be used.

Pho originated in northern Vietnam and spread to southern Vietnam in the mid-1950s, after the defeat of the French and the eventual partitioning of the country. The communist government of North Vietnam forcibly closed many private phở businesses in the 1950s, opening government-run eateries in their place, which tended to offer phở of rather inferior quality. Northern Vietnamese fleeing communist rule for South Vietnam introduced phở to their southern counterparts. Unlike in Hanoi in North Vietnam, the phở business flourished in South Vietnam, especially Saigon.

With the arrival of anti-communist Vietnamese exiles and refugees (that is, hailing from South Vietnam) in the post-Vietnam War period, phở was also gradually introduced to Western countries, especially to France and the United States, both of whom were major actors in Vietnam's colonial and post-colonial history. There are also many phở restaurants in Australia and Canada, as these countries also received many Vietnamese refugees and immigrants. Non-refugee Vietnamese immigrants also brought phở noodles to the former Soviet bloc countries, including Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic.

There are several regional variants of phở in Vietnam, particularly divided between northern (Hanoi, called phở bắc or northern phở; or phở Hà Nội), central (Huế), and southern (Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City). One regional phở may be sweeter, and another variation may emphasize a bolder and spicier flavor. "Northern phở" tends to use somewhat wider noodles and green onions. On the other hand, southern Vietnamese generally use thinner noodles (approximately the width of pad Thai or linguine noodles), and add bean sprouts and a greater variety of fresh herbs to their phở instead.

Cultural practices:
Vietnamese phở restaurants usually retain the cultural practice of not delivering the bill to a customer's tables, since it is considered rude—in Vietnamese culture, it is seen as a way of trying to rush the customer out the door. Most tables usually have a numbering system and have chopsticks, spoons and condiment dispensers.

The use of condiments such as chile sauce, hoisin sauce or basil leaves could be considered unorthodox among some consumers.

Styles of phở
Some Vietnamese restaurants have begun catering to non-Vietnamese customers by opening in other areas. Adapting to local tastes and diets, some Vietnamese restaurants in the United States have also started making chicken-based phở (phở gà) or even vegetarian phở, in addition to the traditional beef noodle soup. Seafood-based phở has also been known to exist, although it is not considered real phở. Another variation of phở involves using egg noodles instead of rice noodles. There are also Korean and Thai variants of phở available.

Phở tái lăn:
Another style of phở which is rare even among Vietnamese is phở tái lăn, served with beef only; the herbs added may vary. Thin slices of beef are char-fried in a wok; the chef puts some oil into the wok and tilts it so that the oil will catch fire and the beef will be fried inside-out (normally when stir-fried, the meat doesn't have direct contact with fire but with the wok instead). In some aspects, this style of phở is better even for Vietnamese and more suitable for the taste of foreigners who are not accustomed to eating raw beef.

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