Caldrons of broth simmer throughout the night at many of the Vietnamese restaurants that have popped up in Westminster, Chinatown, Alhambra and Reseda. These establishments specialize in pho , the rice noodle soup that originated in northern Vietnam but became popular in Saigon when thousands of refugees fled south.
It takes hours of simmering to produce the mild, beef-flavored soup base used in the numerous varieties of pho popular at breakfast, as well as throughout the day. Because the preparation is so time-consuming, most people opt to enjoy the soup at restaurants such as Pho 1, Pho 54, Pho 79, Pho 86, Pho 999, Pho Cali and Pho Hoa. A bowl of the soup and espresso coffee with condensed milk, cafe sua da , is a bargain, priced at about $5.
The boiling-hot broth is poured over thinly sliced steak, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe or meatballs--or two or more of these in combination. Menus sometimes also include chicken pho.
Bean sprouts, red or green chiles, onion, lemon or lime juice, mint, cilantro and basil leaves are typically offered as garnishes. You may also want to add a dash or so of the hoisin and hot chile sauces, standard on every table.
For those willing to tackle preparing the dish, author Nicole Routhier includes the following recipe from her mother, a native of Hanoi, in the book "The Foods of Vietnam" (Steward, Tabori & Chang, 1989: $35). Routhier says: "She always made the beef stock in large quantities--enough for at least three meals--and froze it in batches until needed."
Pho 79 Restaurant, 727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 625-7026. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
5 pounds beef bones with marrow
5 pounds oxtails
2 pounds short-rib plate or 1 pound flank steak
2 large onions, unpeeled, halved and studded with 8 whole cloves
3 shallots, unpeeled
1 (2-ounce) piece ginger root, unpeeled
8 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 medium parsnips, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound beef sirloin
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon shredded cilantro
2 medium onions, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup hot chile sauce (tuong ot or sriracha sauce)
1 pound (1/4-inch wide) dried rice sticks (banh pho)
1/2 cup nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups beans sprouts
2 fresh red chiles, sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
1 bunch mint, separated into leaves
1 bunch Asian or sweet basil, separated into leaves
Rinse beef bones under cold running water, leaving marrow intact. Soak overnight in pot with water to cover at room temperature.
Place beef bones, oxtails and short rib plate in large stockpot. Add water to cover and bring to boil. Cook 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse pot and bones.
Return bones to pot and add 6 quarts water. Bring to boil. Skim surface to remove foam and fat. Stir bones in bottom of pot occasionally. Continue skimming until foam ceases to rise.
Add 3 quarts more water and bring to boil. Skim off all residue that forms on top. Reduce heat to low and simmer.
Meanwhile, char clove-studded onions, shallots and ginger directly over gas burner or under broiler until fragrant aromas are released. Tie charred vegetables, star anise and cinnamon stick in double thickness of dampened cheesecloth. Add spice bag, parsnips and salt to simmering broth. Simmer 1 hour.
Remove short-rib plates. Pull meat away from bones. Reserve meat and return bones to pot. Simmer broth, uncovered, 4 to 5 hours. As liquid boils away, add enough fresh water to cover bones.
Meanwhile, freeze beef sirloin 30 minutes. Slice against grain into paper-thin slices, roughly 2-inch squares. Slice reserved short-rib meat paper-thin. Set aside.
Combine green onions, cilantro and 1/2 sliced onions in small bowl. Place remaining 1/2 sliced onions in another small bowl and stir in hot chile sauce. Blend well.
Soak rice sticks in warm water 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
When broth is ready, remove and discard all bones. Strain broth through strainer or colander lined with double layer of dampened cheesecloth into clean pot. Add fish sauce and bring to boil. Reduce heat and maintain broth at bare simmer.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in another pot. Drain noodles, then drop into boiling water. Drain immediately. Divide noodles among 4 large soup bowls. Top with sliced meats. Bring broth to rolling boil. Ladle broth directly over meat in each bowl (boiling broth will cook raw beef instantly). Garnish with green onion mixture and freshly ground black pepper.