A Growing Pho-nom-nom-nom-enon

The sauces and add-ins give flavor to the Vietnamese soup.
Photo by Emily Nichols

It is important to clarify that pho is properly pronounced “fuh.” With such a pronunciation, the subtly inappropriate jokes are endless.

About a year ago, hardly anyone knew what the pho it was. Now, the mouthwatering Vietnamese soup has established itself as a notable noodle dish.

Indeed, it may be assumed that even if the soup didn’t taste as phenomenal as it does, it would still be noteworthy in pop culture solely for its name.

Some of the best pho hotspots in Arizona are located relatively nearby the ASU Tempe, West and Downtown campuses.

What the pho?

Great question. What the pho is pho? Boiled down to the simplest of terms (and because there is not enough time in a day to explain every detail of its glory), pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that consists of a sensational steaming broth, a variant type of meat and cooked rice noodles.

Pho reigns from Hanoi in northern Vietnam, but also holds an equally large presence in southern Vietnam. Often it is described as the staple meal of Vietnamese households. Slowly but surely, pho poured its way across the globe and into the commercialization of American restaurants.

Pho Extraordinaire Chan Tieu owns his own Vietnamese restaurant, unPhogettable in Mesa (just off the light rail), and says that pho is currently growing more and more in popularity. He attributes this blossoming recognition to websites, such as Urbanspoon and Yelp.

What to expect

Each restaurant serves a delectable bowl of rice noodles and palatable broth garnished with onions or scallions, depending on regional variation. For a nice contrast, each Vietnamese restaurant offers their own variation of additional items: bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, Thai basil, cilantro and lime wedges.

Additionally, most Vietnamese restaurants provide diners with a self-serve station that wields options, such as chili paste, Sriracha, hoisin, fish sauce and soy sauce.

The sauces are inarguably flavor-enhancing. However, the more cultured eaters tend to argue against excessive saucing in order to preserve pho authenticity.

You’re forking kidding me

The long slippery noodles make pho the most awkward first date food.
Photo by Emily Nichols

WARNING: Pho is not optimal for first dates. Eating and slurping the soup requires two types of utensils: a deeply concaved spoon and chopsticks.

But don’t worry if you can’t use chopsticks — the waiters offer newcomers a fork.

What the pho happens in the pot?

A typical batch of pho cooks anywhere between 12 to 26 hours and requires almost constant attention.

Although each batch differs, the essential spices of the dish include ginger, cardamom, star anise, coriander, cinnamon and fennel. These distinct spices are simmered with beef bones (and sometimes other beef byproducts) to create an unparalleled broth.

At his restaurant in Mesa, Tieu and his restaurant staff cook their broth for 26 hours until it shimmers.

Because the meat bones are dirty, Tieu says for the duration of the 26-hour process, the unPhogettable gang must constantly wipe the broth clean of floating fat. He approximates that with each pot of broth, they scoop it clean at least a thousand times — that’s 38.46 scoops per hour.

And all 26 of those hours are necessary.

“Everybody scoops,” Tieu says. “Other places try and cut corners and compensate.”

Cook time is no competition, but Rice Paper in downtown Phoenix only cooks its broth for 12 hours. However, this eatery boasts a gargantuan pot size. Carlos Diaz, the head chef at Rice Paper, uses 20-gallon pots and simmers his signature broth overnight while the restaurant is closed.

Comparatively, mother and daughter team Avina Pham and Thanh Nguyen simmer their broth for 14 hours overnight in four 10-gallon pots, brewing up to 40 gallons of soup every night. Their restaurant, Pho Avina, is across from the West campus and also hosts a boba bar, where customers can order a unique ethnic beverage to pair with their meal.

Choosing a chop to stick with

Imagine a world where sizzling bowls of noodles were only a hop, skip and jump away. Fortunately, the selection of Vietnamese eateries in the Valley is plenti-pho-l.

Aside from his exceptionally clean restaurant in downtown Phoenix, the general manager at Rice Paper says the appearance of a restaurant can suggest much about the authenticity of its food.

When it comes to pho, the dirtier the plate, the better the meal.
Photo by Emily Nichols

“The dirtier the place is, the better the food,” Khoutakoun says.

Luckily for students, these nearby restaurants are double whammies — both the floors and the food are sanitary.

 

If you go. . .

 

unPhogettable
Located near: Tempe campus

66 South Dobson Road, Suite #138
Mesa, AZ 85202
(480) 835-2298

Pho Avina
Located near: West campus

4920 W. Thunderbird Road, Suite #110
Glendale, AZ 85306
(602) 439-2547

Rice Paper
Located near: Downtown campus

2221 North Seventh Street
Phoenix, AZ 85006
(602) 252-3326

 

 

Contact the writer at ejnicho1@asu.edu or via Twitter @TheEmilyNichols