Phở is pronounced like you are saying the word FUN but without the N, and with a rising tonal quality as if you are asking a question. Lots of people simply say “foe,” and to people who know and love the food, it’d be similar to hearing someone say pee-zah instead of peats-uh. Understand? Good. Now try saying it out loud. It still ain’t as easy as it seems. My wife is Vietnamese and I still get corrected nearly every time I say the fucking word.
Vietnamese phở might be some of the tastiest, most soul-warming food you can ever funnel down your gullet. For my purposes, there is really only one kind of phở with which you should concern yourself, and that is phở bò, or, put into English, Vietnamese beef noodle soup. There are plenty of varieties, like chicken (phở gà), but come on… really? If you are getting it, get a big bowl of the mixed beef type. Although, I must say, sometimes I like to order with just the thin-sliced eye-round meat, or that and beef meatballs.
For those who may not know, I’ve give a quick rundown of what this awesome shit is. Phở is a very aromatic and highly flavorful beef soup made with LOTS of different parts of the animal: oxtail, marrow, tripe, brisket, eye-round, processed beef balls, etc. The meats (and bones) are stewed to tender perfection and then served in an almost clear, strained consomme broth that had simmered for hours with all the meats and spices. The spice flavor profile is warming and aromatic with things like star anise, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and other comforting flavors. The rice noodles used are long and flat, almost like a linguini. It’s often topped with fresh cilantro, fresh sliced chili peppers, fresh bean sprouts, fresh Thai basil, fresh sliced scallions, thinly sliced raw onion, and a wedge of lime. It’s usually accompanied with plum sauce (hoisin) and chili paste (sri racha) on the side for you to add to taste. The result is something so delicious that you will crave it every day of your life. It’s light, yet hearty. You’ll never find a broth so clear and thin with so much flavor packed in it.
Unfortunately, the first place I ever tried phở is now closed. It was called Nam Phuong, down in Tribeca on 6th Avenue, and I used to order it pretty regularly while I was studying nearby at law school. I recall going back after having it at a few other locations and thinking it was better over in Chinatown, but it still sucks that the first place I ever experienced such a dish is now gone.
By far the most delicious bowl my wife and I have ever had was in Vietnam, up in the mountains of Sapa at a resort. It should be noted that phở in Vietnam is different than here in the states. First: there’s a more robust flavor: deeper, more soulful. Second: the sri racha is non-existent as (1) sri racha is an American product that generally isn’t available in Vietnam, and (2) it is not needed. They just utilize their abundance of fresh chili peppers. They DO have a chili paste in Vietnam, but it’s creamier, sweeter and more orange-colored than sri racha. That sauce is probably better for dipping with fried items than mixing into soup.
Clearly not everyone can just up and leave to the mountains of Vietnam for a bowl of soup. So if you can’t, try poking around this list of joints to see which pique your interest.