Vietnamese pho has a fresh taste that not only blends flavors into a surprisingly nuanced combination, but also manages to be healthy at the same time. With its refreshing mix of garden greens, raw herbs and tangy splashes of lime, it’s springtime on a plate
Vietnamese food is a kind of breezy cousin to its more prepossessing Chinese neighbor; the taste is related but the sauces are lighter, the ingredients fresher, the stir-frying less intensively oily. One of the best-known Vietnamese dishes, perhaps, is pho. But what, you may ask, is so great about the humble noodle dish? Actually, the noodle is not the star attraction. They’re excellent noodles, of course and they’re even made of rice flour, which means they’re also fashionably gluten-free. But when people talk about pho, they’re thinking of the delicious consommé-like broth combined with the hearty noodles, crisp vegetable toppings and a variety of meat options that make it a meal in a soup bowl.
What makes a pho
Pho’s magic lies in the interplay among its ingredients: The crisp greens, the sharp herbs, the light tangy broth, the heat of chili peppers, and the “comfort food” satisfaction of the heaps of noodles. It’s a soup and salad all in one. And therein lies the rub, because if you go to a restaurant that serves pho, you’re liable to find yourself facing a bowl of noodle-filled soup with a perplexing pile of fresh vegetables and condiments on the side that arrive, alas, without an instruction manual. There’s a do-it-yourself element to a pho dish, so whether it’s a vegetable or meat pho, some of it will come on the side and you’ll get to play chef at the table.
Texture is a key element of Vietnamese cuisine, so the julienned carrots or bean sprouts or cabbage, that are put into pho won’t be pre-boiled or stir-fried into a limp mass. Put as much or as little as you like in the soup. You’re also bound to be facing an array of condiment - chili sauce, peanut sauce, vinegar dips – that you’re free to put into your bowl. But pho fans recommend tasting the broth first and going easy on the added flavors in order to enjoy the complexity of the soup itself.
Pho may have a light taste, but it’s surprisingly filling. It’s a lunch or dinner in itself. Actually, in Vietnam, it’s eaten for breakfast or as a quick meal at street stalls, but that’s not how it has caught on around the world, where it may be found in lunch eateries or, as in Kathmandu, as an upscale restaurant offering. You may be tempted to think of pho as a starter course; after all, it’s a soup. But it truly is a satisfying meal, preceeded perhaps by appetizers such as spring rolls.
Dry white wines are said to pair well with Vietnamese food, whose nuances can be overpowered by stronger red wines. If you have a choice of wines, a Riesling can be a good option. If you prefer red wines, consider choosing a dry rose or softer red wine such as pinot noir.