Archive for the 'Pho' Category

Hoàn Kiếm – Los Angeles (Chinatown)

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

Named after Hanoi’s misty and mystical “Sword Lake,” Hoàn Kiếm in Chinatown serves just three dishes on weekdays and four on weekends. While the kitchen’s repertoire might seem limited, the menu has actually doubled in size since the Ho family first opened the restaurant in 1989.

The proprietors, who hail from Halong Bay, a city more famous for its limestone karsts and isles than its cuisine, draw upon family recipes that have been passed down for several generations in executing each of their specialties.

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

Most popular here is the banh cuon, steamed crepes filled with seasoned ground pork and Woodear mushrooms. Its texture was chewier than the banh cuon I’ve sampled in Saigon, Hanoi, and Grandma’s house, which signaled more tapioca starch and less rice flour in the batter. While The Astronomer and I weren’t gaga about the texture, we were both pretty stoked to try a new rendition of a beloved dish.

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

The nuoc cham (fish sauce vinaigrette) served alongside, as well as the slices of pork loaf and fried shallots, were wholly familiar. A dab of chili sauce from the condiments made everything taste even better.

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{swoon} Phở Bò at Phở Filet

Pho Filet - South El Monte

Linh Phuong Nguyen makes my favorite bowl of southern style pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) at Phở Filet, a worn-in restaurant straddling the border between Rosemead and South El Monte. While the filet mignon that comes standard with every bowl is a cut above the rest, it’s Ms. Nguyen’s unparalleled broth that distinguishes her product from the dozens of pho hawkers in town.

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Phở Bò – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

During my visit to San Diego this past Mother’s Day, Ba Ngoai taught me how to make pho bo from scratch. It was a two day affair, one day dedicated to purchasing groceries and another to preparing the soup. Shopping and cooking on the same day is an exhausting endeavor for a senior citizen, so I was happy to divide the tasks in order to finally conquer Vietnam’s most iconic noodle soup.

The leg bones that we had procured the day before were soaking on the stove when I arrived at her house on Sunday afternoon. She switched the flame on high soon after, parboiling the limbs to get rid of impurities. Next, she instructed me to turn off the heat, grab ahold of the pot, and follow her into the backyard. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but what Grandma says goes in my family.

In the backyard, we dumped the scummy water into a ditch of sorts that my grandfather had constructed for this very purpose, making sure not to lose any bones in the process. We then squatted Saigon-style, turned on the garden hose, and rinsed each nub under cold water. It seems that Grandma has a fear of clogging up the kitchen sink, hence this unorthodox, old world technique. After the bones had been thoroughly cleaned, we brought them inside the kitchen and proceeded to make the broth.

When it came time to char the ginger and onion, ingredients essential for perfuming and coloring the soup, Grandma reached into her bag of tricks once more and employed a beat up tin can that was once filled with bamboo shoots. The can’s tight and intensely hot compartment yielded an evenly charred onion with neither fuss nor mess. Grandma’s kitchen genius knows no bounds.

The recipe that follows for my grandmother’s pho bo has been adjusted ever-so-slightly to reflect the sensibilities of modern cooks like myself. While I’d love to have a drainage ditch dedicated to soup scum in my backyard, our current one-bedroom in Pasadena doesn’t allow for such luxuries. Additionally, I’ve swapped out the tin can for a flame-licked grill in order to char the aromatics. While I finessed some of Grandma’s cooking techniques, the soul and flavor of her pho hasn’t been fiddled with one bit. After all, perfection shouldn’t be messed with.

I had an incredible afternoon shadowing Grandma and learning how to construct a well-balanced and deeply satisfying pho. I hope you can taste the love.

For broth

  • 5 pounds beef bones with marrow (leg bones, oxtails, etc.)
  • 4-5 ounces fresh ginger root
  • 1 onion
  • 1 daikon, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half or thirds
  • 5 star anise
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 3-inch long cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 5 tablespoons salt, divided
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon monosodium glutamate (optional)

For toppings and garnish

  • 2 pounds beef plate
  • 1 pound beef tripe
  • 2 pounds beef top round or eye round, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • Fresh herbs such as Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander, etc.
  • Limes, cut into wedges
  • Fresh beansprouts, trimmed
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Chili sauce

For noodles

Make broth

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Dry roast the star anise, cumin seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Once the spices have cooled, transfer to a muslin spice sachet and tie the bag closed tightly.

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Noodle Guy – Alhambra

Noodle Guy - Alhambra

Friday night called for something warm and comforting for dinner. It’s been one of the mildest winters in recent memory, but temps hovered in the fifties this evening and storms were rolling in from points north. After assessing the possibilities in and around the neighborhood, The Astronomer and I decided that a short drive to Alhambra for Vietnamese beef noodle soup was the order of the day.

Noodle Guy - Alhambra

Noodle Guy, not to be confused with Noodle King two doors down or Noodle Boy in nearby Rosemead, serves Vietnam’s greatest hits. From broken rice to spring rolls, there’s enough variety here to fill a thick, spiral-bound booklet. However, glancing around the dining room, it seemed that most everyone was burying their faces into a big bowl of pho.

Noodle Guy - Alhambra

Taking a cue from my fellow Noodle Guy-goers, I ordered a bowl of pho bo dac biet. Beneath the heap of chopped cilantro and sliced onions was a bed of rice noodles and a delectable collection of meaty odds and ends including flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe.

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