Sunday, June 09, 2002

Vietnamese soup appeals to American tastes, too

By Polly Campbell,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Where to eat pho:

        Pho, pronounced pha, is a Vietnamese soup of beef and rice noodles. It's a staple of all Vietnamese restaurants in this country and is a perfect crossover dish, easy for non-Asians to enjoy.

        Here's how popular it is: The Campbell Soup Co. is introducing a commercially prepared pho broth aimed at mainstream eateries. Look for pho to be the next ethnic food trend.

        If you want to be ahead of the culinary curve, become a regular pho-eater at Song Phung restaurant in Forest Park. Owner Dan Bracken says it's the restaurant's specialty and one of its most popular dishes.

        “It's originally from the north of Vietnam, brought there by the Mongols,” Mr. Bracken says. “In 1954, after the war (when the country was divided) a lot of Catholics from the north came south and brought it. Now it's popular all over Vietnam for breakfast or lunch.”

        Here's how pho is made:

        First, the flat rice noodles go in the bottom of the bowl, the broth and the meat over that. “The broth is made with a variety of spices, including star anise,” Mr. Bracken says. “My brother-in-law (the restaurant's Vietnamese chef) uses his secret packet of spices. It's served with several things on the side, and the eater assembles it to taste. Hoisin sauce is important, because it strengthens the flavor of the broth. Bean sprouts, Thai basil and an herby green leaf called ngogai are on the platter, and sometimes chopped peppers. You add all this to the bowl, turn it all over, then squeeze lemon on the top. Without all those extras, it really isn't pho.”

        Pho is traditionally a beef dish, though Song Phung makes a chicken version. If you order Pho dac biet, or special pho, you'll get several kinds of beef, including tripe and beef tendon. (Neither has a lot of taste; it's the texture that you either love or hate.)

        Pho tai is probably better suited to American tastes. It includes thin-sliced beef that's cooked by the hot broth. Some people eat the meat dipped in a mixture of hot “rooster” chili sauce and hoisin.

        Other places to try pho: Song Long, the Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant in Roselawn, serves it several ways, including with vegetables for American tastes and with meatballs and tripe for Vietnamese tastes.

        Lu Lu's in Springdale has pho, either beef or chicken, on its menu of Asian noodle dishes.


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- Vietnamese soup appeals to American tastes, too
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