By Joon Lee
It’s your typical Saturday or Sunday around lunch time. Trying to subdue your hangover, you need something to replenish your body after a hard night of Busch lager, Jim Beam and a pack or two of Marlboro Reds. Here in the great metropolitan area of Washington D.C, we drinkers like to wake up, call our peers to regroup and flock to a local restaurant and satisfy ourselves with a nice bowl of pho (pronounced fuh), a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup.
According to Wikipedia, this dish may have originated in the city of Hanaoi, Vietnam, which opened its first restaurant in the 20s. However, over the course of decades, pho has crossed over to many different countries, including here in the states. Even today, number of pho restaurants is rising rapidly as its cultural and popular influence among major metropolitan areas have become monumental.
As a long resident of Northern Virginia for the past nineteen years, I’ve had the privilege of Pho exposure at the age of thirteen. It’s a bit of an acquired taste for some. A few are reluctant to try initially due to its strong scent of cilantro, basil and other unfamiliar garnishes that surround a typical pho joint. And in some cases, one might not even enjoy their first ever bowl.
But then comes that one rainy day. You’re feeling hungry and subconsciously telling yourself, ‘I can definitely go for some pho right now.’ And that’s when it all starts. Obsessing over the delicious hot bowl of broth, noodles, and sliced beef (or shredded chicken) along with bean sprouts and chopped up green onions, lemon grass, and thin sliced onions, you’re never looking back to that life you once lived without the greatest hangover remedy you’ve ever witnessed.
The aura of a typical pho restaurant is quite simplistic yet unique. Pho 75 in Falls Church, VA is one of the original Pho restaurants stateside that is very traditional and hasn’t changed a bit since my first visit back in 1996. Often, I’ve waited in line at this place, but seats are imminently available and service is rather speedy. Imagine a cafeteria with row after row tables with customers constantly coming and going. The restaurant exudes a heavy scent of cilantro and Thai basil that’s readily apparent soon as walking in. Hung up on the walls are old photos of Vietnam, its villages and people. This atmosphere gives an imaginary sense of nostalgia almost as if you grew up in a Vietnamese farm in the 70s. The subtle sound of folk music is heard in the background and you get that calm feeling before your delicious bowl is served.
Most menus in all pho restaurants are similar. They’re categorized by a numbered list of beef combination noodles (phở bò). At pho 75, no. 1 entails parts of beef including eye-of-round steak, brisket, flank, soft tendon, and bible tripe. Rest as you would imagine, would have less of a combination, so you can pick and choose what part of beef you want in your broth. For those who that prefer chicken can order phở gà instead. Once your order’s been placed, it’s not long until the hot steamy bowl is present in front of noggin and thereon, it’s fifteen to twenty minutes of ecstasy.
Served with pho is a plate of fresh bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño peppers, lime wedges and basil. Traditionally, they’re served as optional toppings to your soup that could further enhance and spice up your broth to its next level. Residing at a table are your different sauces and seasoning, but the two predominantly added to your noodle are hoisin sauce (contained in a squeeze bottle) and Sriracha sauce. The combination of the two creates magic that goes very well with the rice noodle.
To top things off, one can order Vietnamese style iced coffee that’s usually served with a single cup aluminum filter on top of a small tea cup filled with condensed milk. Once the coffee fully drips to completion, it can be stirred to combine the milk before pouring onto a cold glass of ice. As a black coffee guy myself, this would mark the only time I’d ever drink coffee with anything but just coffee. It’s that good.
Pho 75 has branches throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Philadelphia. If you live anywhere near the DC Metropolitan area and have not tried pho, shame on you. It’s worth a kick. As for your out of towners, if you ever frequent any of the aforementioned areas, don’t be shy to Google ‘pho restaurants’ on your smart phone. The experience, good or bad, will be worthwhile because once you’ve been pho’ed, there’s no going back. It’s a lifelong commitment.