Pho Bo – aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Eric and I tend to travel like we eat out – rarely, if ever, duplicating the places we go. When we first moved to Chicago, we instituted The Restaurant Rule: one new restaurant every weekend. While we don’t follow this rule so religiously anymore (I could eat Urban Belly every weekend if Eric would let me), it gives you an idea of our philosophy on travel. That is, there are so many places to visit, we’d like to see them all before doubling back.

But, just as we have started doubling back on some of our favorite restaurants, I imagine it is almost time to start doubling back on our favorite destinations. Almost. And the first place I want to go back to? Vietnam. Between the amazing food and a culture so far from our own, I’ve never been so mesmerized.

These girls started taking pictures of us walking down the street, so we took a few photos in return.

cheap fabric abounds

I tried to take a cooking class while we were there. I thought I registered for a class, but as can be commonplace in Vietnam – or anywhere you don’t speak the language – we had a bit of a miscommunication. I woke up early and took a taxi to class, only to find that the kitchen was closed. Nonetheless, I found a fantastic Vietnamese cookbook when I got home. Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen makes Vietnamese food accessible without dumbing it down or “Westernizing” so it is unrecognizable. I’ve already made a number of dishes from this book, and they’ve all been delicious.

the iconic tiny plastic kid stools at every restaurant

gotta add in the super hot peppers

market

Perhaps one of the most recognized Vietnamese dishes is the classic soup, Pho. It generally comes in two varieties – Pho Bo, with Bo being the word for beef, and Pho Ga – ga = chicken. Pronounced fuh, Pho is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can eat it in between meals, on the street corner, sitting on child-size plastic stools. Anytime, anywhere, this soup is the shit. I was also happy to find out that some of the Pho I’ve had in Chicago tastes very similar to the versions we had on the street in Hanoi – authentic, indeed.

I made my beef stock before I decided I was going to make Pho, so I had to improvise a bit. There really is not much to Pho, so the broth is very important. To make mine a little more authentic, I simmered my stock with star anise and cinnamon and tossed in some fish sauce at the end. If you can, though, definitely make a fresh stock with Pho in mind.

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Pho Bo (aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen, recipe written as I made it

8 cups beef broth or stock
1  1/2-2 pounds dried banh pho noodles (at an Asian market, they’ll be labeled this way; at other markets, they’ll probably be called rice noodles)
1/2 pound flank steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper

Garlic chives or scallions
Bean sprouts
Thai chiles
Lime wedges

Warm the broth in a large pot. If you are not making the stock yourself, simmer chopped ginger, cinnamon, and star anise in it. Slice your onion and let is soak in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a large pot, boil some water. When it is boiling, turn off the burner and submerge the rice noodles. Let them sit for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are soft. Drain immediately and rinse the noodles in cold water.

Meanwhile, heat some neutral oil in a pan and sear the steak. You want to keep it pretty rare because it will continue to cook in the broth when the soup is served. Prepare all the garnishes – chop the chives, wash the sprouts, thinly slice the Thai chiles – and BE CAREFUL – these guys are hot!

When you’re ready to serve, layer the ingredients in a bowl – rice noodles on the bottom, then the steak, then the onions. Then ladle the broth over the top, and garnish with herbs, bean sprouts, limes, and chiles.

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Honeymoon Gluttony

We’re back! After a month of wandering around Southeast Asia, we arrived in Chicago at 9am Saturday. I’ll be busy writing up posts on everything we did in addition to trying to recreate the amazing food we ate, but for now, I have a few pictures of some of the amazing food we ate.

Best thing we ate in NYC: the famous pork buns at Momofuku

Pork Belly Steam Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC

The jet lag has controlled us the last two days. After 36 hours of traveling and sleeping on airplanes, I went into a coma for about 4 hours, then stayed awake until 4am. Laying down in a bed and stretching out my legs under my down blanket was pure comfort after being couped up in economy class.

This was amazing. Toasted Manti with garlic yogurt.

Toasted Manti with Garlic Yogurt and Broth at Prune in NYC

The trip went like this: 4 days in NYC prior to departure. It was actually quite warm (high of 50 degrees F the day we left), but snow blanketed the city. It was just three days after the first of the massive snow storms in the Northeast, and the streets and sidewalks were a mess. Regardless, we managed to eat some scrumptious food.

best thing ever. mango and sticky rice. you haven't had mango until you've had it in Southeast Asia.

Mango with Sticky Rice on the streets of Bangkok

Then we flew to Seoul. With a 12-hour layover in Seoul, we took a tour of the city and ate some bibimbap (rice with mixed veggies, beef, and spicy paste) and bulgogi (marinated grilled beef). The meals were good, but the photos haven’t uploaded to Flickr yet, so I haven’t included them here. After that, it was on to Bangkok. We had just one day in Bangkok – we ate street food, saw some temples, and checked out the infamous Khao San Road. We also had about 5 hours to kill in Bangkok at the tail end of our trip, which is when we picked up this amazingly juicy mango served with coconut-y sticky rice. Probably the highlight of Bangkok.

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Bun Bo, aka Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad, in Hanoi, Vietnam

From Bangkok, we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had some glorious meals in Vietnam (in addition to several sub par meals), but the Bun Bo shown above may have been my favorite. Our hotel recommended this place – a small restaurant that serves only Bun Bo. The salad is served with tender butter lettuce and a rich, flavorful broth. Yum.

and the final product - wow.

Marinated beef, grilled tableside and served with crusty bread, on the streets of Hanoi

Another day in Hanoi, we were wandering around looking for a lunch when we spotted, and smelled, this amazing grilled beef. It’s grilled at your table in lard and butter with tons of vegetables. The famous banh mi, Vietnamese bread, was flaky and crusty on the outside, and soft and doughy on the inside. It was incredible.

We had a whole snapper and sting ray, plus two bottles of water, for a grand total of about $9.

Fresh seafood at the Night Market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

After Vietnam, we flew to Malaysian Borneo, where you can go to the well-known night market in the main city, Kota Kinabalu. All the vendors display their freshly caught seafood, so you can pick out what you want and they’ll grill it up for you on the spot. Pretty amazing stuff.

a Balinese specialty - crispy duck!!

Crispy Duck in Ubud, Bali

Finally, our last stop was Bali. In Ubud, the famous dish is this Crispy Duck – a small Balinese duck that is grilled and then deep fried. Served with the super spicy sambal shown below, it was a tender, delicious meal.

that spicy spicy sambal. it looks so good, i want to eat it by the spoonful, but one small bite burns my mouth for hours

Very spicy Balinese Sambal

This stuff is more potent than you’d think. It looks so delicious that I wanted to eat it by the spoonful, but it was so spicy, I could only stand a small bit at a time.

rambutans and snake skin fruit

Rambutans and Snake Skin Fruit at the market in Bali

Lastly, we had some amazing fruit. Besides the juicy mangoes, I also loved the snake skin fruit. It peals ridiculously easy and has a texture similar to an apple. It is dry – not juicy like most delicious fruits – but it’s sweetness is seriously delicious.

I’ll be updating on more adventures soon. I already went to the book store today and picked up a Vietnamese cookbook, so I’ll be sharing some recipes soon as well.