Fresh, salubrious, innovative, and heavenly divine: these are the elements that fuel my addiction to the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam. Rarely do I have the opportunity to laud over food that is actually healthy and absent of the artery clogging fun that exists in our rendered pork fat-loving society. The masterful synthesis of aromatic herbs, flavorful chilies, rich meat stocks, and an avant-garde use of spices often spark insatiable cravings for the delights of Southeast Asia. Having tasted the exotic dishes of Thailand firsthand, I can differentiate between true multidimensional Southeast Asian cuisine and homogeneously seasoned, Asian-like food devoured by those with less than concerning palates. The cornucopia of basil, citrus fruits, nutmeg, culantro, mint, chilies, and coriander, among others, lend Thai and Vietnamese food its distinctive, multilayered flavors. I grew to adore these tastes from an early age, but just recently have the cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia flourished in popularity and authenticity stateside. This recent development is allowing more Americans than ever to broaden their horizons and experience a taste of Asia that they may not be accustomed to.
I was standing in my kitchen last week, lamenting over eating leftovers for dinner, when I came across a box of spaghetti, a bottle of Texas Pete, and oddly enough, a jar of peanut butter. I had no intention of cooking such bizarre ingredients together, but it did remind me of slurping Pad Thai on the streets of Bangkok. The thought of those soft rice noodles, lightly tossed with egg, fish sauce, tamarind, red chilies, and topped with crunchy peanuts made my mouth water and initiated a desperate craving for Pho Hien Vuong on Spring Garden Street. Leftovers would have to wait...
Pho Hien Vuong is among the most authentic and delicious restaurants serving Southeast Asian cuisine in the United States. Their menu is impressively expansive, brimming with both Thai and Vietnamese favorites such as Phở (Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced, “fah”), Gỏi Cuốn (fresh Vietnamese spring rolls), Tom Yum (hot and sour Thai seafood soup), and of course: Pad Thai. First on my menu that evening was an order of Fresh Spring Rolls. I asked Trang, my server and fellow UNCG Spartan, to add roasted pork and basil to the delicate Vermicelli rice noodles, plump shrimp, and earthy vegetables, which are then cloaked in a sheet of rice paper and served immediately. The urgency in which the rolls are served is substantial because rice paper quickly becomes rigid and flavorless minutes after being activated in water and rolled into Gỏi Cuốn. The rolls are complimented by a rich, homemade peanut sauce that pairs perfectly with a touch of spicy Sriracha (known colloquially as “Rooster Sauce”) to lend the dish some heat.
My next discovery was Pho Hien Vuong’s trademark Phở Bò Tái (Beef Noodle Soup); perfected over generations of cooking this Vietnamese national dish at home. The fragrant broth of rich, savory beef drippings enhanced with subtly sweet star anise and cassia is what crowns Pho Hien Vuong’s Phở as one of the most superior soups in existence. Paper-thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth steak, a medley of herbs, a mountain of soup-absorbing bean sprouts, a hint of lime, more Vermicelli noodles, and the addition of a jalapeño pepper make this soup a hearty and inexpensive meal even on its own. Trang soon brought over my steaming Pad Thai; glistening stir-fried noodles adorned with crisp scallions and a generous serving of tender chicken and salty peanuts. If I closed my eyes I could imagine being back on Ramkhamheang Road in Bangkok, enjoying the same exact dish minus the 110 degree heat and relentless offers for “sexy” massages.
Pho Hien Vuong has established a loyal following among Southeast Asians and Americans alike over its two years in business. Recipes and cooking techniques that perfectly capture old-world Thai and Vietnamese cuisines with the added luxury of American sanitation and refrigeration requirements allow residents of the Triad to enjoy these authentic and thought-provoking dishes on a regular basis. Dinner prices at Pho Hien Vuong are extremely reasonable for the volume and caliber of food, but the $4.95 daily lunch specials served with jasmine rice and a spring roll are an especially phenomenal deal.
Pho Hien Vuong
4109 Spring Garden Steet
Greensboro, North Carolina
Monday through Thursday
11:00am to 3:30pm, 5:00pm to 9:30pm
Friday through Sunday
11:00am to 9:30pm
*A version of this article appeared in print on October 27, 2009 on page 15 of The Carolinian and online at worldlyeats.blogspot.com
Pho Hien Voung
4109 Spring Garden St, Greensboro, NC 27407