You've seen the neon sign above tiny restaurants in odd strip malls. You don't know how to pronounce it, you don't know what it is and yet you wonder...what the f is Phở?
Phở (pronounced fuh), is the national dish and main street food of Vietnam. It is a beautifully flavored soup made with phở rice noodles (hence the name) and fresh ingredients which include meats, aromatics and vegetables.
All Phở soups begin with these delicate rice noodles and comforting broth, the broth being both the star and secret ingredient of the dish. A beef-based broth will have a deep, earthy flavor in contrast to a chicken broth's brighter richness. Yet all Phở broths are flavored with lovely spices and aromatics such as cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Additionally, charred and/or roasted onions and ginger are added for flavor. The result? A huge, comforting hug in a bowl.
Beef, chicken, tiger prawns, vegetables - you name it - once you've chosen your soup from the menu the fun begins. Phở is served with a side of fresh herbs and garnishes. Typical garnishes served alongside your soup include cilantro, lime, Thai basil, bean sprouts, culantro (more bite than its cousin, cilantro) and a lime wedge. In addition you can add sriracha, fish sauce, or hoisin to your broth as well.
I enjoy my Phở very simply. First, I found a restaurant that uses no MSG and prepares a truly fragrant, beautiful chicken broth: Simmering Phở Cafe in Morgan Hill, CA. I add bean sprouts for the crunchy texture and tear small pieces of the basil into the soup. That's it. The broth is so good it doesn't require additions. Although, I must admit, recently #NoTwitterTodd pushed me to add just a little sriracha for a bit of kick and I really liked that addition.
If you've been afraid to try Phở, or just didn't know what it was, I recommend that you look up reviews of local restaurants in your area (or a town you're visiting) and try it soon. It is a wonderful, healthy, comfort food and a great gift from Vietnam.