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Pho: A Bountiful Broth
At almost any Vietnamese restaurant, a house specialty is the deeply savory soup known as pho. Identify some of the complex flavors in this seemingly simple dish with Groupon’s guide.
In broth the toasted-gold color of a late-fall sunset, a tangle of noodles, vegetables, and slivers of meat swim. But it’s the limpid broth itself that boasts the most complexity in pho (pronounced “fuh”). In every sip, the experienced palate can detect hours of labor and fistfuls of spices. Although variants of the dish include a vegan version with shiitake mushrooms and a lighter chicken variety, most chefs begin making pho with several pounds of beef bones. Marrow bones, knucklebones, and oxtail each lend different qualities to the stock as it simmers for hours with ginger, onions, cardamom, clove, and cinnamon. Splashes of fish sauce and a star-anise pod or two round out the flavor.
After the chef strains out the spices and bones for anyone who hasn’t ordered it extra crunchy, the soup should be salty, slightly oily, and piping hot. The heat isn’t just there to warm the belly: it cooks the delicate rice noodles and lace-thin slices of beef added to pho bo—perhaps the most popular style—as it hits the table. At most eateries, diners will share or fight over a plate of sprouts, jalapeños, lime, and fresh basil, which add little smacks of crunch, spice, and acidity. These garnishes are decisively Asian additions to a meal that, like several of Vietnam’s most famous dishes, arose out of French colonial occupation. The dish and its name are widely believed to have been adapted from the humble French stew known as pot-au-feu, designed, like pho, to make the most of inexpensive cuts of meat that would be difficult to prepare without long simmering.