Thanks to Bean sharing his germs from school with me, I have a head cold. Right in time for the holidays. Lovely! Being pregnant, head colds present a bit of a challenge. Don’t get me wrong – I am a medication person. I don’t believe in suffering unnecessarily, so I loves me some medicines. But when I’ve got a sensitive little bun in my oven, I’m a lot more aware of what I’m taking and I really try to avoid all medications as much as possible. I take Tylenol occasionally for my back and hips (both of which feel like they belong to an 80 year old woman at the moment), but I try to limit it to that.
This morning I woke up after a particularly hard night of no sleep were I sat upright all night long so that I could breathe and I thought to myself, “Okay. It’s time to do something out this. It’s time to get serious. It’s time to get some pho.”
Pho is Vietnamese noodle and beef soup. It’s like the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup. Only way more powerful because it’s spicy. I first had pho in Connecticut with Chris. The Yale University theater is right across the street from York Street Noodle, a small, cheap, cozy, Vietnamese noodle house. When we moved to New Haven, neither Chris or I had ever had Vietnamese food before. But the restaurant was right across from the theater and so during weeks when Chris was working full days and nights on a set, it was the only place he could spare some time to meet me for a quick bite. York Street Noodle was where I first discovered pho. And I fell in love. It’s warm and cozy and makes you feel like you’re at your mom’s kitchen table…in Vietnam.
Then I discovered that a few of my co-workers had a place close to our office where they went for Vietnamese food on their lunch break and so I forced my way into the lunch bunch. On cold, snowy winter days, nothing is better than a big, steaming bowl of pho.
Admittedly, pho is a little scary. Actually, Vietnamese restaurants can be a little scary. But it’s only because they are so authentic that I think they can intimidate Americans who are unfamiliar with that kind of food.
BUT DON’T FEAR THE PHO!
Vietnamese is my favorite ethnic food and I think it is highly underrated. So, my friends, today I am going to explain The Pho to you so that you will no longer be scared and you might possibly venture into one of those cozy, tiny Vietnamese restaurants all on your own. Actually, I would suggest going the first time with someone who knows what they are ordering so that you have a little help. But if you find yourself staring at a Vietnamese menu, go with the pho. You can’t go wrong with pho.
So. What is it and what do you do with it? Here’s what it looks like when you order it:
Now, it does vary slightly from restaurant to restaurant. For instance, the restaurants in New Haven served it in a bowl with one type of beef and you just added your toppings. But the restaurant I tried this afternoon in Orlando served it with a lot more options for toppings and several different types of beef that you could add.
Don’t be grossed out. You don’t have to use it all. In fact, I didn’t use any meat. But see that white pile of noodles? Those are the key ingredient. Also key? Sprouts and basil.
And the magic part is the broth. This broth came with meatballs, but I threw those out. I only want the broth. The wonderful, ginger-scented, rich broth. Ahhhh….
Okay. Now that we have all our parts, let’s assemble the greatest cold remedy ever made. First, put the noodles in a big ol’ bowl.
Then pour the broth over them, stirring so that they loosen up and quit clinging to each other for dear life.
Now, at this point you can add the meat of your choice. I chose no meat today because I wasn’t feeling so hot, but the flank steak beef is my favorite when I have meat. It’s cut really thin and cooked perfectly. But I was feeling meatless today.
Next come the toppings. Traditionally, you get sprouts, basil, lime wedges, and sometimes ginger. The place I went today also had jalapenos, but that really weirded me out so I ignored those. Today I went a little bland because of my cold.
First, I added sprouts. They are raw and add a nice little crunch to the soup, especially if you let them sit in the bowl and soften a bit at first.
Then I added some basil. Just the leaves. When they hit that hot broth, the infuse the soup with the most delicious taste and smell. Heaven!
Then comes the cold remedy part. It’s the Vietnamese hot sauce. It’s hot. Incredibly hot. But when you have a cold, you must not skip this step. Pour as much as you can handle without crying into the soup bowl. Then mix it around in the broth until it turns a rosy pink color from the spice.
To eat this mother load of a decongestant, you need a few tools.
First, you need an Asian soup spoon. Actually, you should have these at your house whether you’re eating pho or not. They’re great spoons. I use them for dips and things when I put out appetizers when company comes over. They make cute little serving spoons. But for pho, they are especially perfect. You use the spoon to drink the hot, spicy broth.
Then, you use chopsticks to eat the noodles, sprouts, and whatever other toppings you choose.
Do you like my chopsticks? One of my pho-eating former co-workers, Dana, brought me a set of eight beautiful chopsticks from China. They are lovely and I adore them.
The last tool you will need when you eat a bowl of pho is a box of tissues. If you have a cold, pho is the perfect decongestant. The combination of heat from the broth and the spice from the hot sauce and the smooth texture of the noodles is perfect for loosening up your sinuses. Trust me.
So, now you know how to eat pho. Which means if you find a little Vietnamese restaurant that you really want to try, but you have no idea what to order or how to eat it, now you have no excuse for not going in! And that also means if you have a cold, you’ve got a hearty, healthy, warm remedy to loosen those sinuses!