pho” king triumph — no wait, disaster!

Hi foodsters! Well, it’s been a while. I have been flummoxed. I am typing this, in fact, in kind of a hurry, before sunrise, on a day when the kids don’t have to get up early, I omitted my ritual shower, and I really should be filling out financial aid forms. But! I’m going to report on my most amusing adventure associated with our annual orgy of Chinese food preparation and consumption associated with the lunar new year.

It all started last week when I heard the “Good Food” show on KCRW, a Santa Monica NPR affiliate, while driving home from work. Apparently there’s a stretch of Garvey Ave. in South El Monte (northeastish L.A. area for those of you east — or very far east — of the Sierra) that is solid packed Vietnamese restaurants all specializing in the savory hot beef noodle soup known as pho” (pronounced fuh). The descriptions were mouth-watering; however South El Monte is over 100 miles away. I ran in the door shouting “Let’s make PHO”” only to find that my wife had heard the same radio show and in fact had ransacked the local asian markets for ingredients. The key, however, was a little box that contained a couple of spice packets (gia vi nau pho’‘, says the box, also Epice Pour Soupe Tonkinoise, which makes some sense to me, and Chinese special spice, which does not). These packets obviously contained anise, but also according to the box, they contain Tsao-kuo (I have no idea), cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt. Whatever. It’s the magic pho” ingredient without which you get that distinctive Vietnamese-restaurant aroma. Win. (BTW it’s in a teabag like thingy you suspend in your broth, so you don’t have to pick bits of star anise out from between your teeth when you eat. Also win).

We decided that the way forward was going to include chicken broth and chicken, rather than the traditional beef broth, tendons and tripe. I’m not morally opposed to tripe, nor really turned off by it, but … well you try explaining what part of the cow it is to the kids. Tendon was pretty much unavailable, and we didn’t have a good supply of beef stock, so chook it was. And boy did it smell great. We washed up the traditional (mostly) garnishes (bean sprouts, mint leaves, cilantro, and thai basil) and I tossed in the fresh rice noodles:

pho king fantastic

(note spice packet dangling) So far, so good.

Condiments laid out on the plate? Check!

pho'' condiments

And finally the finished product:

note the preserved plums ...

I served two bowls, and there was much rejoicing. Also slurping and noodles whipping about.

But then, I turned around and looked back at the pot. And the broth was GONE. I’d left the noodles in the simmering broth and they thirstily absorbed all the moisture, until nothing was left but a quivering mass of gelatinous noodle paste. Pho”*ing disaster!

TURNS OUT you’re supposed to use one of THESE:

noodle basket thingee

to make an individual serving of noodles for each bowl. We even have the gadget, but, DURRRR I didn’t use it. Next time for sure.

Gung Hay Fat Choy, y’all.

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