Pho Chin Nam $6.95
Let me first begin by saying I wouldn’t usually blog about a type of food I know nothing about. It may seem that at times I think I know what I’m talking about and you think, this chic really has no clue. The truth is, I do know—I know fried chicken, I know sandwiches, I know Italian food . . . the list goes on. However, I do not know or claim to know Pho. This is a pre-clause to let you know that this isn’t really a review, but rather a note of sorts on my first experience with Vietnamese soup.
When I go out to eat I am usually so eager for the food to arrive that I can’t concentrate on anything around me or anything being said to me. I’m sorry to everyone with whom I eat. I pretend to listen, but I’m not really hearing anything you are saying. I may nod a lot and say “Yeah,” but the content of your story is irrelevant, because my mind is racing with excitement for the food that will soon sit in front of me. The other night I was especially anxious as I had no idea of what to expect with Pho.
I dined with two friends, one a Pho expert who claims Pho Gia is one her favorite spots around town and the other in the same boat as I, just a curious eater. We walked in and Gia was extremely clean and well manicured, with perfectly set tables, newly painted walls, bright chandeliers and a flat screen television playing “Everybody Loves Ramon.”
We sat down and my Pho expert told me she liked the Pho Ga, which is traditional Pho broth, seasoned with coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and fennel, with thin slices of chicken and rice noodles and Pho Chin Nam, which is traditional Pho broth with beef brisket and beef flank. I decided on the Pho Chin Nam and we split the Cha Gia appetizer, crispy rolls with ground pork and shrimp.
When our Pho arrived, I couldn’t believe how vibrant the colors were. The soup was beautiful: translucent broth, large, tender slices of beef flank and sprinkled with scallions and cilantro. To its side was a small plate with bean sprouts (giá), wedges of lime or lemon (chanh), and basil (rau que). At first bite I was completely caught off guard by the sweetness. The flavors were complex; sweet from the cinnamon and anise, but spicy from the Tuo’gn O’t (chili sauce) and rich from the Tuong An Pho (plum sauce). I couldn’t decide what I thought, but I knew I needed more. I glided my spoon across the top of the soup to pick up the scallions. However, getting the noodles was a bit more difficult. We sat there, all slurping, with both hands in the air; my left hand with the spoon and right with the chopsticks. Quite messy.
It was awkward and funny, but really I just wanted to figure out how to get a bite with both the noodles and beef. Finally, a contraption; using the chopsticks to wrap the noodles within the sticks followed by pushing the noodles against the spoon and grabbing the tender beef at the end. The beef brisket was a bit fatty for my liking, but nonetheless flavorful with hints of the cardamom.
We sat and talked, gulping down pho while it dripped from our hands and mouths. I was still uncertain; tasting each bite carefully to gather all the essence. My pho expert just kept saying, “It’s an acquired taste,” like beer, we all agreed. She told me I’d be craving it later and sure enough after taking half my bowl of pho home and coming home to write, I suddenly realized I wasn’t finished. I went back into the kitchen—the pho still hot from dinner. I took a few more bites, placed it back in the fridge and went back into my room. The more I wrote about it the more I wanted and before I realized it the pho was gone.
The moral of the story: I think I like pho and I will surely try it again.
1944 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97232