Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pho Real?

This entry is going to be about pho.

If you were curious about what pho is, it's a Vietnamese noodle broth that is usually served with meat (steak/chicken/tendons) and with a hint of lime juice. It is also garnished with cilantro, onion slices and basil.

I've always loved pho. The rice noodles and succulent steak, soaked in the sweet-salty broth (a boiled product of beef bones, ginger and other spices) makes it one of the best Asian must-try meals.

The above photo was taken at Pho-Bac in Elmhurst, New York over the summer - one of the most sought after Vietnamese restaurants in the Queens county. It was delicious. I'd definitely recommend that place if you're on a quest for pho.

Can you go wrong with a steaming bowl of pho?

Unfortunately, you can.

I'm sorry to defy the purpose of this blog and its title - it was called Tasty Temptationz for a reason, but since we're on the topic of pho, I'll share a story that happened a few months ago at Little Saigon in Conway, Arkansas. 

After a summer away from Arkansas in which I had good pho nearly each week, I was still craving it when I returned to Conway. There was only one place in Conway that served pho, and that was Little Saigon. So one night, my friends and I went there for dinner. 

Dana had fried rice and shrimps. Good choice. Doris and I both ordered beef pho with tendons. Tendons are not as gross as they sound, trust me. Their soft and chewy texture adds a great flavor to the pho. Tendons are optional, but I usually get them because they're probably the pho's best feature.

When our noodles arrived, we were disappointed to discover that we'd been ripped off. All the other restaurants I'd been to served their phos with generous helpings of lean, thick tendons. But Saigon served microscopic chunks of tendons that couldn't be found unless you actually bothered to dig around with your spoon. 

Doris even counted hers - she only had two minuscule pieces of tendons swimming in her large bowl of brown broth and noodles, among the rubbery beef slices. The broth was too salty. $8 for that miserable thing wasn't worth it. Annoyed, she called brought this to the waiter's attention. 

"I've had pho before, and they usually come with about 8 or 9 pieces of tendons, " Doris explained to him. "But this - look at this. There's only like, two super tiny pieces that barely count. Could you maybe add a few more tendons or something?"

He kept shrugging helplessly and pushing all responsibility to the cook. So he went back into the kitchen to talk to the cook, and several minutes later, emerged with the nonchalant response, "Oh, the cook said he'd actually put in 3 pieces in there, but the soup was too hot so maybe some of it melted."

Doris and I exchanged glasses. He had to be kidding. Tendons don't melt in hot soup.

We stared silently at him for a several long, awkward seconds. He was deadpan serious. 

Oh come on. Adding a few more pieces of tendons in there couldn't hurt. They didn't have to invent a lame story to back it up.

"Nevermind," Doris told him. "It's fine."

So, he left to attend to other customers. We just shook our heads and tried to finish the rest of the noodles, but it was hard because the broth was brimming with so much salt that I probably gained a big sodium rush that night.

As we paid, we reminded ourselves never to repeat the mistake of getting pho at this particular place. It was a waste of money.

We only wanted pho, but all we got instead was a phony attempt.

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