In terms of pop culture, Phó —the Vietnamese noodle soup, is currently experiencing revival ‘IT‘ foodie stature.
In fact, this dish is so happening, that if Phó were an actor it would be Jennifer Lawrence.
If it were a model, it would soooo be Cara Delevingne
If it were a singer it would be that annoying troll-hobbit Ariana Grande—I long to take a weed whacker to that phony-tail of hers.
But before any more vocal confetti, first a brief history lesson!
• Did you know, that Phó is strictly a staple breakfast offering in Vietnam, served with a black cup of coffee?
• While the word Phó appears to be pronounced ‘Faux‘—like a Kardashian, the correct elocution is actually ‘Fuh‘ (like ‘Huh’)…Illuminating stuff, yes?
• Lastly, the word Phó refers to the actual rice noodles known as bánh phở and can come with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, vegetables or any combination thereof.
My initial indoctrination into the cuisine happened in early 2014 via a friend after a yoga sesh. While I’ve certainly enjoyed many a oversized asian-inspired noodle soup during my life’s quilt, this was the 1st time I was mindfully trying Vietnamese Phó, ya dig?
Said friend brought me to Phó Rua Vang Golden Turtle on Ossington street in Toronto. On any day of the week, the place is packed to the gills with hipsters and foodies slurping down enormous bowls of soup and other yummy accompaniments. It is considered by and large the #1 eaterie for Phó in the downtown Toronto area. Other big draws are their famed deep-fried pork spring rolls (I don’t indulge in the swine) and their spicy satay chicken + lemon grass with vermicelli.
The instant you sit down at Golden Turtle you are sated with a steaming hot-pot of green tea. I order a vegetarian Phó soup and it comes to the table in the blink of an eyelash with a side plate of extras. The side plate at any Phó establishment are the add-ons that are integral to the heightened flavor of ones soup bowl.
*Insert Record Scratch Sound Here*
But before we go on, I must make a dramatic 360° turn to another restaurant I discovered, that trumps The Golden Turtle in terms of their Pho’ broth and over all presentation.
Back in the early spring I was having a conversation with a local restaurant owner and telling him all about my Phó obsession at Golden Turtle.
“Yeah, it’s good, but there is so much better Phó around,” he said matter of factly.
“But what do you mean” I said in disbelief? “It’s packed all the time, sometimes it’s impossible to get a table!”
“Yeah, it’s packed, but do you notice that it’s strictly all non-asian clientele?”
“If you want good Phó, you should go where Vietnamese people go. Like down on College St. at Phó Linh—it’s incredibe.”
And just like that I became a convert overnight. My friends sage advice was some of the most potent, yet simplistic foodie-wisdom-for-the-ages. If you want the best of any cuisine, go where people from said cuisines background go to eat. Brilliant!
So, yes, IMHO, Phó Linh is *better* than the Golden Turtle in terms of the actual soup broth, veggies, tofu and add-ons. Did I mention I have a six day-a-week Phó habit that I have no intention of giving up?
Like the Golden Turtle, the peeps at Phó Linh bring a green tea to your table as soon as your booty hits the seat. In the summer its a cold green tea offering, in the fall/winter, hot. Because I am there so often, (I’m literally on an IV drip of the stuff) they no longer take my order and just give me an all-knowing nod as they hand a paper to the cook. It’s also important to note that Phó Linh is also PACKED to the gills with patrons–they’ve been around since the late 90’s!
Also I don’t want you coming. Seriously. This is not an advertorial. I don’t want it getting more popular. I’m totally serious about this. It’s such a little gem for me. I don’t want THE MAN, messing it up.
And…back to our story.
Important to note is the bric-a-brac of condiments nestled to my right; back tube (left) of hot sauce, (right) hoisin sauce, front right to left: pot au heaven (I made that up) a paste made of blended chili peppers, fish sauce (a Vietnamese mainstay) and finally shrimp sauce. Purists don’t believe in using condiments, but as you like is how I look at it!
In less than 10 minutes a steaming huge bowl of Vegetarian Phó soup with extra tofu, extra cripsy (my specific order) comes to the table with the side plate of extras that you heard about earlier in our story.
What comes next is a meditative ritual of spice placement that is really like an aromatic dance for me. I am never more ‘present‘ then when I’m going through the very pleasant rigmarole of preparing my Phó. The side plate bounty consists of (on bottom) crunchy bean sprouts, multi-leafed stock of THAI BASEL, it smells like a fragrant Saigon sunrise (I have no idea what that means), one piece of Culantro (not to be mistaken for Cilantro) but they are definitely related somewhere in the vine-lines of the Cilantro fam. Next is a mini crimson red chili pepper, and lastly a gorgeous wedge of lime goodness.
Quid Phó Pro
There are subtle rules of engagement when sitting down to a bowl of Phó. My process is as follows. I start with the plucking of the Thai Basel, one by one into my soup. Then I take the stalk of Culantro and break it up into pieces and spread it around the soup. My former amateur move was to stick the whole stalk of it in, until I observed how the initiated were doing it in the restaurant. I even received a nod of encouragement from a lovely Asian woman as I was doing it one day. Next I sprinkle in some bean sprouts, and finish off with a circular lime squeeze. The lime is so very essential to the over all TANG. I don’t use the mini hot pepper as I douse my Phó in the mixed condiment chili paste as you will see shortly.
Next I take my ‘tools’—a soup spoon, and a pair of chop sticks. I mix the ingredients together with my soup spoon (there’s additional onions, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms bok choy, and a heaping of shallots and regular cilantro already in the soup.) I take my chop sticks and loosen the noodles underneath, and do a newly homogenized taste test. The picture doesn’t really do the presentation justice, (the veggies et al are hidden) but I wanted to take my own photos. Hear that Word Press Freshly Pressed panel?!! The photo that does do it justice is from the top ↑ of my story one taken from UrbanSpoon.com. It’s an exact replica and makes my mouth water just looking at it!
Lastly, I add some pot au heaven chili paste directly on my crispy pieces of tofu. The tofu, compared to the forgettable soft puff balls at Golden Turtle, are like tasty little firm mattresses! The broth at Phó Linh is a perfect blend of tastes, where comparatively the Golden Turtle broth is too salty and simply doesn’t have the same texture, aroma and quality.
So there you have it, I promise you I’m not this precious with any other meals, nor am I even remotely anal about other things in my life. I truly just enjoy the slow and mindful ritual of my warm and cozy solo Phó moments. Oh, yea, I like eating it alone. Company is not encouraged. No noise, no chatter. Do you have certain meals that you like eating by yourself specifically? Please feel free to share your Phó stories with me!
Also, send money? This habit is getting expensive!
The Pop Culture Rainman™