When thinking of Vietnamese cuisine, people are often reminded of steaming hot pho bowls with rich flavours. Coming to Vietnam, pho is also the first dish that tourists usually want to try. However, unbeknownst to most people, besides the traditional form, there are also many other modern pho variants.
Of all pho variants, the traditional one is the most popular due to its widespread appearance. The pho noodles are blanched until soft and filled with hot broth. The broth is what makes or breaks the traditional pho. The cook must ensure that the stock maintains its clarity, the natural mild sweetness of bones, and the typical intense flavour of pho, which make people’s mouths water just from smelling its aroma. Pho broth’s aroma comes from pho spice bags which are used to eliminate the smell of beef and bones. A pho spice bag contains star anise, black cardamom, and clove roasted then wrapped into a cloth bag and put into the stockpot. Therefore, the skills of a pho cook all lie in his broth. Traditional pho itself has many different variants such as beef pho, chicken pho, clam pho, Muscovy duck pho, shrimp pho, and fish pho. Among them, beef pho and chicken pho are the most popular.
Soupless pho (also called two-bowl pho) is a specialty of Gia Lai. A serving of soupless pho consists of two bowls: one is a bowl of soupless pho mixed with a decent amount of soy sauce and pork cracklings, minced meat, and vegetables; the other contains broth with beef, beef balls, and quail eggs. The noodles of soupless pho are somewhat chewier and smaller than the regular ones. In particular, the broth of soupless pho is very genuine, whether dining in a restaurant or at a sidewalk stall, it is easy to feel the sweetness of bones and meat in harmony.
For vegetarians, the vegetarian pho dish is also one of the Vietnamese specialties. Its ingredients are entirely plant-based. The broth of vegetarian pho has a very distinctive sweetness of simmered vegetables. Submerged in the mild broth are silky pho noodles along with a few slices of vegetarian chicken and sausage, mushrooms, scallions, etc. creating an inviting bowl of pho.
Originally, pho rolls only appeared in the Ngu Xa area of Hanoi, but today, its “reach” has extended to many provinces nationwide. In contrast to the small, bite-size noodles of other pho variants, the ones of pho rolls are big enough to wrap different sorts of vegetable fillings and sautéed beef. Pho rolls are used with sweet and sour fish sauce mix and a bit of cucumber.
Fried pho has two common types which are egg-fried and deep-fried. Deep-fried pho consists of many stacks of noodles that are cut into small pieces then deep-fried until each one puffs up. It is served with sautéed beef and bok choy. For egg-fried pho, people fry pho noodles with eggs and serve them with sautéed beef and bok choy. Each of them has its unique features, if deep-fried pho is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, then egg-fried pho has an extra richness from fried eggs. Both of these are dipped with sweet and sour fish sauce mix.
Although not as chewy as glass noodles and rice vermicelli, mixed pho is delicious in its own way. Mixed pho is a combination of many kinds of ingredients and spices. The noodles are put into a bowl with chicken or beef. Then, people add a little bit of herbs, fried shallots, bean sprouts, peanuts, and pour a layer of seasoning sauce on top before serving with sweet and sour fish sauce.
Another version of mixed pho that is worth mentioning is pho tiu. Unlike mixed pho, the accompaniment for pho tiu is tender and aromatic char siu meat. A serving of pho tiu contains pho noodles, char siu meat, and raw vegetables. One can argue that the spirit of pho tiu is its thick, rich sweet and sour sauce that will surely capture the heart of anyone who tries it immediately.
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