Right smack in the middle of allergy season, my bf Marcus got an honest-to-goodness, sniffling sneezing coughing aching, baby, gets-me-some-Nyquil cold. We did the boiled ginger tea with honey, we thought he could sleep it off.
Then, the morning after his first night of sickie-dom, I told him I was going to Chinatown to get him some Soup.
Pho is no joke. I had never even heard of it until college, when my best friend L took a bunch of us to Oakland Chinatown and introduced us to our very first bowls of Hot Vietnamese Love. (Yeah, there were Vietnamese folks where I grew up, but somehow the Stuff escaped me. It was more a Filipino town. I think there used to be some unspoken rule that you can only have one Asian ethnic group in the majority per city. But I’ll get to lumpia and adobo another day.)
What is pho (/fuh/)? It’s hot steamy beef broth, added to any of various kinds of meat, for example: chicken (ga); brisket; tendons; beef balls (as in spheres, not testicles); and, rare steak (tai, my favorite – you actually watch it go from pink to cooked in the broth). Mix in your bun/rice vermicelli, some bean sprouts, fresh basil and/or cilantro, lemon or lime, a few sliced chilis, some hot red chili sauce, and some sweetish purple stuff, then tie back your hair and roll up your sleeves. Eat it with people you love, because there will be slurpin’. Yeah, pho is like THAT.
L, I, and our two friends made numerous late nights runs to our fave Viet spots: Pho Hoa Loa, Pho 84, and yes, there is even a place called Pho King. Something about that protein infused broth works the magic, because it fixed Marcus’ cold, and has been known to give college sophomores the gumption for mid-terms, make a dollar out of fifty cents, and heal a broken heart.
I don’t know what’s in pho, exactly. L knew how to make it, but she knew the recipe so intimately that she couldn’t even recall the exact names of the ingredients (“you throw a few of those star things in”).
I think she meant…anise?
I think…her mama swore her to secrecy.
Years after my undergrad, I saw Emeril Lagasse pay homage to Pho on his show, in his own Emerilized way: Hey, it take three days to make, but it’s the national dish! Give it a break! Yes, do give it a break, because on an overcast day, when both you and the weather are feeling under the weather, Pho’s powers are instantaneous.
There was a time when I was eating so much pho, hitting the Viet spots with bilingual L so often that I learned to order food, and the waiters understood me! And then they’d start talking Vietnamese to me! Like in a conversation!
Of course, after that the jig would be up. Truthfully, my intonation was probably not that great, and more likely it was just some cute boys trying to flirt. No matter. Aside from occasional straying to bun thit nuong –because grilled pork always knows how to please me– when I’m down for Vietnamese food, my heart belongs to pho.
*Yes, I’m sure this title has already been used somewhere.
Image courtesy of pho-king fantastic website, phofever.com