I popped my pho cherry.
What I Ordered: Hot tea, Vietnamese egg rolls with dipping sauce, pho with rare steak
Pho has been a culinary blind spot for me. My wife Amanda, who has always gotten me to eat things I either thought I didn’t like or never had before, was introduced to it a few years back. She works at the naval base in Northeast Philly, which is smack in the middle of the city’s Little Vietnam. She’d been trying to get me to try it for years, but it never really worked out until today.
The place she normally goes to wasn’t open for whatever reason, so we went around the corner to another one, Pho Viet, along Whitaker Avenue, which was two storefronts down from ANOTHER Vietnamese eatery that advertised the noodle soup. Amanda wondered aloud whether they threw noodles at each other. It would be amusing if they did, wouldn’t it?
We walked into the place, which was kinda empty at the time (we eat lunch very early, at 11 AM, so we didn’t take it as a bad sign). It was bright, clean, and most importantly, it smelled great in there, like fresh cilantro. I know the herb is controversial, but I use it in my fresh salsa. I love it. We sat down to a neatly set table with two bottles of soy, a squirt bottle of hoisin, a jar of chili paste, and, of course, the bottle of holy rooster sauce, sriracha, nestled against the wall. We agreed on splitting an order of egg rolls, which Amanda says she likes better than Chinese ones, and then looked to the page with all the pho options on it.
There were many different options, all with different cuts of meat and offal in them. I considered being brave and getting my soup with tripe in it, but I was a first timer who really never ate offal regularly in anything. Maybe next time I’ll be brave. This time, it was just the rare steak.
The egg rolls came out with a dipping sauce that resembled duck sauce. It was tangier but less viscous than regular duck sauce. I was informed that there was fish sauce in it, which isn’t surprising since Southeast Asian cuisine is full of it. I thought they were outstanding. The pork inside was flavorful and moist, and the sauce complemented the roll well. It was a great opening salvo.
Next came out the pho in a GIANT bowl with onions, rice noodles, and slivers of beef. They brought out a plate with Thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, and lime wedges. I tasted the broth first, and I wondered what I was doing with my life before trying it. The beef was next, tender and infused with the flavors of the broth. I loved the texture of the rice noodles. After a few spoonfuls of broth and forkfuls of noodles, I started adding in the sprouts, peppers, and of course, sriracha sauce, enough capsicum to clear out my sinuses on a blustery cold day.
It took awhile - again, it was a big bowl - but I got to the bottom of it. The soup amazingly stayed hot the whole time, which was very much appreciated. This was my first foray into Vietnamese cuisine, and it was a really good one. I’d go back to Pho Viet again, both for a return engagement of pho and maybe for something different like a banh mi. But more importantly, it’s good to have an adventurous wife. Like she said, even after seven years, she’s STILL making me try new things (although in my defense, I didn’t really have to be forced to try this).