Spice Up Your Soup

Spice Up Your Soup

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Classic Vietnamese noodle dish is steeped in flavor, tradition

Go ahead — breathe in the aroma. You’re supposed to.

And, really, you wouldn’t want to miss the fragrance of cinnamon, cloves and star anise the infuses the broth of the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho.

Indeed, a flavorful broth is the key to this classic dish (pronounced “fuh”), one that’s becoming increasingly popular.

“For me, the broth sets apart a good bowl of pho,” said IUPUI professor Thomas Ho, a fan of Asian soups and noodles. “It is how I judge any Asian restaurant which serves soup with noodles such as pho.”

According to the PhoFEver.com restaurant directory, there are restaurants serving Vietnam’s iconic soup in all 50 states. Locally, the IndyEthnicFood.com database lists more than half a dozen Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho. Even soup giant Campbell makes a commercial pho broth.

The soup, often referred to as the national dish of Vietnam, originally was developed in Hanoi in northern Vietnam andspread south of Saigon in the 1950s, says well-known chef and restaurateur Mai Pham in her 2001 book “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table” (Harper Collins, $27.50).

With its emphasis on beef (a French influence) as well as noodles and ginger (Chinese ingredients), Pham says pho reflects the history of Vietnam. As the dish became popular, other more traditionally Vietnamese ingredients, such as fish sauce, were added. “The soup is originally from France,” said local restaurateur Ha Nguyen, who with her brother, Sang, owns Sandra Rice & Noodles, 10625 Pendleton Pike.

The dish did indeed evolve as its popularity spread throughout Vietnam, said Nguyen, noting that basil, bean sprouts and cilantro became popular accompaniments.

“Some people, if I don’t have basil, they don’t want it,” she said.

Drew Appleby, co-founder of IndyEthnicFood.com, calls the pho at Saigon Restaurant, 3103 Lafayette Road, “sort of a combination soup and salad,” referring to the fresh basil, bean sprouts, lime and hot peppers that are served on the side.

“My favorite is the basil,” said Appleby, “which really comes to life when mixed with the soup.”

At Sandra Rice & Noodles, the Nguyens serve a rich, flavorful pho, a recipe that does not include fish sauce or other flavorings they think would obscure the flavor of beef and spices.

“a lot of people, the put fish sauce in it, but to me that kills the flavor of the broth,” said Ha Nguyen.

Her brother, Sang, echoes the sentiment when he advises diffing the beef in the hoisin and chili sauce that are served alongside, rather than adding it to the soup. That would change the flavor of the fragrant, long-simmered broth, he said.

“It cooks for four hours,” he pointed out.

Indeed, making pho takes time, but the resulting broth is rich with the essence of beef and redolent of spices.

“The broth is really nice and clear,” said Ha Nguyen, noting that in Vietnam, the warming broth is often eaten for breakfast.

Here, it is popular at lunch and dinner, although Nguyen wasn’t sure people would like it when she and her brother opened their restaurant three years ago.

“Now they love it,” she said. “It’s an anytime-of-day soup. It’s a comfort soup.”

Source: Indianapolis Star, 3-10-2010, Jolene Ketzenberger

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