Every bowl of phở offers a multisensory experience. Aromatic spices perfume the savoury complex broth, while tender meat and soft noodle contrast with crunchy fresh herbs and vegetables. If you’re a newbie to phở, let’s go through its different components before exploring the steps for your best phở experience. If you’re a seasoned phở eater, it’s always good to go back to basics. Who knows you’ll discover something new and love this Vietnamese national treasure even more?
Bánh phở, as it is called, is a relatively slender and flat rice noodle. The good type is often soft but still maintains its bite even after being blanched and submerged in the broth.
This is the most exciting part of phở, as each vendor has their own secret spice blend and cooking method to extract the best out of beef bones. Common spices include star anise, cloves, onion, ginger and cinnamon, which are dry-toasted or charred before going into the stockpot for an intensified aroma. For the broth, a mix of beef chuck, rump and brisket is used.
You can pick and choose the various toppings, depending on your personal preferences. The meat has been simmered in the broth for a long time, so it’s all tender and juicy. Those who want some bite to their meat can opt for chewy beef balls or tendons. For chicken phở, some prefer bone-in meat, while some like theirs shredded.
If you are in Hanoi, condiments are minimal. These include lime and fresh chili. But in the South, there’s also pepper, fish sauce and hoisin sauce on the table, so eaters can be more liberal in their seasoning.
Again, expect some regional differences here. Northern phở is served with green onion and onion, whereas its Southern counterpart is accompanied by a large plate of herbs. These include basil, coriander, culantro and bean sprouts.
Now that we know what goes into a bowl of phở, let’s follow these steps for a better phở experience:
- Prepare the condiment: If you’re in the South, right after ordering, reach out for a small dipping bowl on the table and begin to mix up your concoction. Start with a 1:1 ratio of chili sauce to hoisin sauce and adjust accordingly, depending on your palate. Some vendors even offer sa tế (chili oil).
- Taste the soup & adjust the seasoning: When your bowl arrives, immediately submerge the rare meat in the soup so it can absorb all the flavours. Then taste the broth. It’s going to be hot, so be careful. Adjust the seasoning with your sauce mixture if necessary.
- Add the herbs: Pick your favourite herbs and add them to the bowl. In Vietnam, full stalks of herbs are served on a platter, so remember to pluck the leaves out before eating. Don’t forget bean sprouts.
- Adjust the seasoning again: After you add the herbs into the soup, the broth’s flavour may be diluted a little bit, so don’t be afraid to adjust the seasoning again.
- Enjoy: The best part of all. Use chopsticks on one hand to enjoy the noodle with some bean sprouts first before washing it down with a spoonful of soup on the other hand. Dip the meat slices into your prepared sauce for a bolder flavour.
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