Pho: It’s cheap, it’s tasty, but how the hell do you eat it?
[Warning: This post is written with the best intentions at heart. It may not be politically correct but it's also trying to be honest. Will accept comments, feedback, or virtual hand slaps as you see fit.]
For those of you who are pho virgins, pho is a Vietnamese soup dish served with rice noodles. It’s delicious, plenty filling, and, best of all, it’s cheap. Even if I’ve “splurged” at a pho restaurant (e.g. ordered a coconut milk or a mango smoothie or both), I’ve never spent more than $15.
The basic problem that I have with pho is that there are no instructions on how to eat it and what you can eat.¹ Pho is the type of food that you need an experienced person to introduce you to. Unfortunately, I’ve had a pho craving ever since I tried it about a month ago and I can’t always find an expert pho’ist to come with me.
The usual pho menu presents options such as beef flank, beef tendon, or beef balls.² But, the choices don’t stop at the main flavor. Those familiar with the soup know to expect a plate of garnishes (basil, cilantro, onions, lime, bean sprouts, and hot peppers) that you can add for taste.
As an adventurous eater, last night, I ordered beef tendon pho (#15). While it was pretty damn tasty, I have to admit that I left a lot of gelatin-like masses in my bowl. Adventurous is one thing. Food poisoning is another. I feared that these congealed floaters were meant for flavor rather than digestion. Was I right or was I missing out on something delicious? Enter: my need for a pho’ist.
Other naïve (read: stupid) questions that I’d like to pose to a pho’ist: if a gelatinous mass fails the can-i-eat-this test, it proper to use the garnish plate to politely discard it? While we’re on the subject of the garnishes, do I put the whole sprig of basil in my bowl or pull off the leaves?
I’d love for pho to come with how-to instructions. Until then, I won’t stop eating pho. I’ll simply continue to eat with my hands and pick at my food. (For those who’ve never had the pleasure of eating with me, this is not really a change.)
¹There are other obstacles that I face to enjoy this dish. These are what you call “personal problems.” They include my personal inability to use chopsticks and the language barrier I have when reading the menu. Thankfully, from what I’ve observed, even expert pho’ists use chopsticks *and* soup spoons to enjoy the dish. Most pho shops solve the language barrier problem with a convenient order-by-number system.
²Unlike the images that come to mind when I hear “beef balls,” I guess they are in the same food group as Italian meatballs.