Just came home from one of my favorite places, Pho So 1 in Van Next to the Ranch 99 Market. I almost always have Pho Tai, which is my very favorite thing in the whole world, but I was reading about Vietnamese cuisine, and so I decided to order something different. I had an order of Bun Bo Hue, which is spicy noodle soup in the syle of the city Hue.
The biggest difference between my dish and my dining partner's bowl of Pho was the oilyness of the broth. A red sheen of oil floated on top, not unlike a good porky bowl of posole. The oil coated the spoon, and the broth was spicy and rich and good! I'd read several descriptions of this dish that said it is typically served with a variety of meats and proteins, including beef, pork, "spam" or pork loaf chunks, a pig's knuckle, and cubes of congealed pigs blood.
At Pho So 1, mine came with a pig's knuckle, 3-4 big chunky shreds of well-cooked fatty beef, and 3-4 thick slices of what looked like roast pork loin. No congealed pigs blood. No "spam" or pork loaf.
The noodles were thicker and softer than the noodles for Pho; more like well-cooked spaghetti. They were easier to spoon up than Pho noodles. The dish was garnished with a big handful of chopped green onions, and there were bits of red pepper and sliced white onions in the broth. I had a dish of garnishes including a lemon wedge, jalapeno slices, bean sprouts, and mint. Only mint, no other herbs.
I found it delicious, but I was full far sooner than I'd have been eating the same amount of Pho. The richness of the broth, the soft noodles - you didn't have to work as hard to fill yourself up!
The meats were a little disapointing - the pork slices were good but kind of dry, even though they were in the broth. I couldn't get much from the beef - I am not really good with chunks of fat, and I hate having a big chunk of meat in my mouth that's hard to chew. And I didn't do anything with the pig's knuckle.
What is the trick, anyway, for dealing with these large fatty chunks? I know people must love it - I see everyone eating them, and tripe, too for that matter. Maybe if the pieces were smaller I would get the attraction, but I feel like I'm going to choke or swallow it whole if I can't chew it.
Do people eat or gnaw on the pig's knuckle, or is that just there to flavor the broth?
Also - I was curious about the pig's blood cubes and there was nothing like that in my bowl. Do you have to ask? Do they serve it at Pho So 1 normally? Were the kitchen staff and wait staff customizing the dish for a non-Vietnamese person?
Anyway - I loved the soup and noodles, and I'm glad I tried it. I'm ready to branch out and try some other soups on the menu, even though my heart sill belongs to Pho Tai.
Any suggestions of what to try next?
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