Here comes my annual “Piss the Asian Eater Crowd Off” post, so buckle up and hang on.
I don’t like pho. I eat it once in a while, but I can’t say it has ever impressed me.
I have eaten dozens of bowls of pho in my lifetime in dozens of Vietnamese restaurants, stretching from Garden Grove, California to New York City. If there’s a scintilla of difference between this pho and that pho, I’ve yet to decipher it.
Aside from filling you up, there is precious little to recommend about pho.
Maybe I just don’t get pho. And if by “don’t get” you mean I can’t get on board with a bland noodle soup, then guilty as charged.
Japanese soups are more substantial; Nipponese noodles are more interesting. Thai soups are spicier and more mysterious, and Korean soups are far more complex, so just what is it, pilgrim, that drives you to a bowl of pho?
I’ll tell you what drives you there: price. Pho is cheap. So cheap they can serve it by the gallon. It’s also filling. Two pounds of noodles for $6.95 will fill anyone up. Face it: any foodstuff that can be served in buckets ain’t that special.
Pho, for the most part, is just boring. The broth is never anything to write home about, and the pounds of cheap, flavorless, flabby rice starch noodles (banh pho) they serve with it bring nothing to the party, either. The only thing that makes pho interesting is the forest of fresh herbs they bring to your table. In other words, you’re served insipid broth and limp noodles and you’re supposed to season it yourself! WHAT FUN!
Pho is the most grandma-friendly of all Asian dishes. It’s what you serve to those who find kung pao chicken too exotic. It’s entry-level Asian for wimps.
The only pho I’ve ever liked is at Le Pho — because the broth has guts. And his meat is better than the suspect cuts a lot of pho parlors sling at you. But the noodles, there and everywhere, are entirely forgettable.
And don’t get me started on whatever it is they call this stuff (that always seems to find its way to my bowl of pho):
So can we nip this pho obsession shit in the bud right now?
I fear pho is about to cross the Ramen Line, and suddenly be the soup du jour among the Instagram crowd. But it doesn’t deserve it.
It doesn’t deserve it anymore than your mother’s chicken noodle soup deserves it.
And spare me the whole “it’s part of their cultural heritage” claim, as these ginormous bowls of blandness didn’t become popular until around a hundred years ago. An argument can be made that pho is really French. Sacré blue!
Here’s my suggestion for pho eating:
If you’ve got a head cold, eat pho.
If you’re broke, eat pho.
If you enjoy eating soup by the gallon, eat pho.
If eating flavorless broth is part of your culture (Vietnamese, Jews, Mormons, Iowans) by all means eat a lot of pho.
If you have no teeth, eat pho. (without the eighteen cuts of beef)
For the rest of you, I suggest trying savory soups of substance:
But if oddly firm, funnily flavored meatballs float your boat:
…knock yourself out.
As for me, I’ll continue diving into the food of Vietnam (which I love, especially the broken rice dishes), and consign this so-so noodle soup to the oblivion to which it belongs.
To head off the haters, here’s a partial list of Vietnamese food that I do like (and I like them a lot):
Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls)
Bun bo Hue (hearty/spicy beef soup with round noodles)
Banh cuon (steamed rolled rice cakes)
Buo luc lac (shaking beef)
Bun thit nuong (grilled marinated pork)
Com tam (broken rice)
Canh chua (hot and sour soup)
Goi xoai (shrimp salad)
…just to name a few.
Hope to see you at Le Pho, or District One sometime soon…just not behind a fatuous fount of f*cking pho.
5 thoughts on “Pho-oey”
You’ve gone too far this time. Side swiping Jews for liking flavorless broth tells me you have never had REAL chicken soup, the way my late grandmother or our friend Micky makes it. With a real kosher chicken, chicken feet, maybe a turkey wing, the right aromatic vegetables, and maybe finished off with a few threads of saffron. Gorgeous stuff. But very few restaurants do it right, certainly not the so-called Jewish delis in LV.
Yes, that restaurant stuff is a sin. The real deal is heaven, with or without Kreplach or Matza Balls.
Back off, John, or I will tell people that you put butter and mayonnaise on your corned beef sandwiches. Atop squishy white bread! (Ah – the power of fake news )
ELV responds (to Barry): I’ll be right over (to your grandmother’s house, or Mickey’s)! Please tell them I like my matzoh like I like my Jewish humor: light and fluffy, with a little bite. ;-)
When you come out to Wisconsin for the world premiere of SPAGHETTIOS (the play, not the canned pasta), Micky will make the world’s best matzoh ball soup.
John, Barry’s right. I’ll defend you tooth and nail (politics and now pho aside) with your all your postings. This one…too far. I’ve had countless shitty Pho’s in my life, many in Vegas. But when you find a real, true Pho, it really is addicting. What I will agree with is that there are too bad Phos in this world. Watery, flabby, mushy noodles, too much 5 spice….too many things can turn it bad. Pho is like opera…when it’s good, you are moved. When it’s bad, it can make you puke. Please don’t dismiss Pho. it can really make you melt.
It’s funny, your attitude toward pho reminds me of my father’s aversion to congee
Growing up in HK, he always associated congee with being sick and infirmed. Personally, I can’t get enough – a bowl of congee with 1000 year old egg and pork with a side of roasted pork belly, that’s comfort food
Big fan of your writings, bought the 2018 guide and will check off some of your favorites this coming March
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