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"Pho" for Dummies

For those of you who have never tried Pho before

Pho is traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup. (It is pronounced "fuh" and not "Fo" with a long "o" sound, as I was corrected by a Vietnamese friend.) 

Both Chinese and French cooking heavily influenced this dish, which originated back in the 1880s. In fact, several cookbooks suspect that "pho" is derived from "pot au feu," a French peasant soup.  

Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam in 1954. As the dish moved south, cooks added more ingredients until it transformed into the version that is commonly served today.

North Vietnamese-style pho tends to be simpler and is made with fewer ingredients. Southern Vietnamese-style pho is a complex dish served with fresh bean sprouts, fresh basil, fresh saw herb, sliced green chilies and fresh lime wedges as toppings.

Refugees fleeing Vietnam in the spring of 1975 brought with them their cultures and cuisine, of which pho has become the most popular among Americans. That is why you see "Pho 75" as a restaurant name. In Herndon, there are only Southern-style Pho restaurants (from what I could research).

To look like you know what you are doing, tear the basil leaves into bite-sized pieces and put into the broth. Add small amounts of bean sprouts and torn-up saw grass into your bowl as you eat. Our waiter cautioned us that dumping large doses of garnishes will cool the soup too quickly. Squeeze the lime juice over the top.

Want more spice? Add a generous squirt of Sriracha, hot chili sauce, directly into your broth. Hoisin sauce (also on the table) should only be added only if the broth is not flavorful enough (in which case you should find another pho restaurant).              

The best-tasting pho in Herndon is Pho 75, but they only take cash. This spartan little restaurant is in the K-Mart shopping center in Herndon, and is popular lunch stop and carryout place. Here a regular bowl of Pho is $6.99 and a large bowl is $8.06. (That's it for their menu—just Pho.)

Their beef broth is sensational—a tantalizing blend of spices and rich beef flavor. Savor the subtle flavors of fresh ginger, cilantro and star anise in their rich beef broth. Their generous piles of fresh basil and bean sprouts make this a riot of textures.

I ordered the "rare" beef slices, or "Tai" thin beef strips, and they gently cooked in the hot broth. With the noodles, this just slides easily down your throat. Squeeze a bit of the Sriracha sauce and hoisin sauce into a small dish and stir, and dip your morsels of beef (or other meats) into the spicy sauce and you will be overwhelmed with how good this tastes. For simple food, and a low cost, this is the best. Service is slow, but, the food is very good.

If you are an "adventurous" eater, and have a higher tolerance for fatty meats and more "exotic" fare, try the beef tendon, or tripe (thinly sliced beef stomach lining). The pale cream-colored tripe had a chewy, rubber-band texture, but was not offensive—just don't look at it much.

Not all restaurants offer beef meatballs, but they can be a tasty addition to your pho if they are of good quality. "Bò viên" (meatballs) are nothing like Italian meatballs. Cartilage and tendon are blended in the meatballs to create a dense and slightly chewy texture. One cookbook called them "bouncy." Pho 75 had tasty meatballs.

Also wildly-popular is the new "Super Pho" in Herndon's McLearen Shopping Center on Centreville Road. It is directly across from the CVS, and is bustling at lunch time. Their pho comes with all the standard toppings, and also saw grass (not included at Pho 75 in Herndon).

Their regular bowl is around $8.25 and their large bowl is $9.25. This restaurant is new and very attractive, with a gleaming, fresh, bright green interior. They also have free Wi-Fi, and they deliver. Their broth was rich and flavorful, and their service was excellent.

A personal note—wear dark, washable clothing when you are eating pho. It frequently "spots" the front of your shirt with broth from bits of noodles falling off your chop sticks. Just laugh and enjoy!

Barb Welsh August 23, 2011 at 03:32 PM
This soup is awesome comfort food when you have a cold, too! Definitely sinus clearing stuff ;)
Leslie Perales Loges (Editor) August 23, 2011 at 04:25 PM
I've heard that so many times, but know nothing abut the dish, what/how to order, etc. I actually suggested this article idea to Nancy because pho is something I want to try (especially when allergy seasons change and I get sick again) but needed some direction. I think she did a great job explaining it!
Nancy Loughin August 23, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Portion sizes are very large at most Pho restaurants. I usually order the 'regular' size and take some home. My college son ordered a "large" and it was HUGE at Super Pho. He enjoyed every bit of it!
Ruth Tatlock August 24, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Go out for breakfast in Saigon and you'll likely get Pho along with an individual-size loaf of French bread. The two cultures meld!
AnnW01 August 25, 2011 at 12:16 AM
Delete AnnW01 8:15pm on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 I love to eat at SUPER PHO in Herndon VA cause they give you a lot of everything not just that the taste is awesome :)
evelyn tafalla September 04, 2011 at 06:07 PM
SUPER PHO -- cool and cozy place to have lunch or dinner. Sumptuous food and superb service! SUPER PHO offers catering & delivery, too. Especially in the cooler days,invite family, friends, co-workers. Make it a habit! Cheers! SUPER PHO enhances your lives!

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