How to enjoy phở at a restaurant?
In Vietnam, phở is mostly restaurant food. Although it can be prepared at home, most people prefer the ritual of going out to a noisy soup shop, where they can slurp their favourite soup while chitchatting and gossiping. Fortunately, phở shops are mushrooming across the world. The best way to choose a phở shop is to find one that is busy (high turnover usually means fresher ingredients) and one that serves all the proper garnishes. It is highly recommended to only patronize a soup shop that at the very least, offer fresh Asian sweet basil and saw-coriander.
Eating phở is an art in itself and the following guidelines are designed to help you better appreciate this wonderful dish.
- When ordering phở in Vietnam, please beware as it comes in many sizes. It varies from small to xe lửa or “train” size, which can feed two or three. Unless you’re super-hungry, go for the medium bowl.
- You can choose the individual or combination toppings, from rare to well-done beef, to briskets and meatballs, even tripe, tendon, and so on. If you’re not sure, try the phở tái nạm, the rare and well-done combination.
- Eat phở while it’s piping hot. If you wait for it to cool down, the noodles will expand and become soggy, and the dish will taste bland. (Some connoisseurs don’t even talk while they eat their phở, and tend to save their serious chatting for later).
- Begin by adding bean sprouts, fresh chillies, and a little squeeze of lime. Using your fingers, pluck the Asian herb leaves from their sprigs and, if available, shred the saw-coriander and add them to the soup. Add them little by little and eat as you go. (if you put them in all at once, the broth will cool too fast and the herbs will be overcooked and lose their bright flavours). Chilli sauce and hoisin sauce (tương), are traditional condiments, but some avoid them because, to their taste, they mask the flavour of phở.
- Push the garnishing into the hot broth and gently turn the noodles.
- With a spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other, pull the noodles out of the broth and eat, alternatively slurping the broth. It’s perfectly acceptable to be seen with clumps of noodles dangling from your mouth, eyes squinting from the steam.
- The broth is served in large amounts to keep the noodles warm and to help season the dish. It’s not meant to be consumed in its entirety. But if you’re in the mood, it’s not considered rude to tip the bowl and slurp down every last drop.
Consider finishing the meal with an iced cold Vietnamese Coffee with condensed milk. Brewed in individual filters at the table, it’s sweet, delicious and very strong. If you’re planning a busy day, get one. It will keep you buzzing for a while.