Pho Real | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Pho Real 

For an introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, start with one small syllable.

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Because a guy just can’t have enough bling, I was picking up some titanium rings at the house/studio of John O’Connor last week. He’s a local artist who operates Industrialized Nation, a company specializing in custom-design metal jewelry, furniture and other cool stuff. I mentioned to John in passing that I was headed over to Little Saigon on the west side of town to check out a Vietnamese restaurant when he tossed out this interesting fact: “Do you know,” he said, “that every word in the Vietnamese language is made up of one syllable?” It’s true. Similar to Cantonese, each syllable in Vietnamese is written independently, as if it were a word. I thought of the only Vietnamese word I knew and sure enough, it’s one syllable: pho.

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Obviously, if you have a language based on single syllables, pronunciation is critical. So when you order pho in a Vietnamese restaurant, don’t rhyme it with doh! Pho rhymes with “duh.” It’s still the only Vietnamese word I know, but if you’re only going to learn only one word of the Vietnamese language, this is a good one. A mainstay of Vietnamese cuisine for the past century, pho has lately attracted the attention of the food cognoscenti here in America. Pho is this season’s seared ahi tuna'the “it” dish for those in the know. Best of all, pho satisfies two central culinary requirements: It’s cheap, and it’s delicious.

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While food historians can’t seem to agree on pho specifics, they concur that it originated in northern Vietnam. Essentially, pho is a brothy soup, usually (but not always) made with beef. One thing I love about pho is that no two bowls of pho are identical. The options for customization are endless, making it a perfect dish for individualists.

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All pho begins with broth'without great broth, no pho. Broth is to pho as memory lapses are to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And one of the secrets of good pho is a fundamental first step: charring onions and ginger, preferably directly on a grill or gas stove. Executive chef Didier Corlou of Hanoi’s Sofitel Metropole Hotel has noted that the charring of ginger and onions for pho is very similar to the French cooking technique of adding roasted onions to pot-au-feu to achieve flavor and brown coloring. Could pho have derived from the French word feu, which means “fire?”

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My favorite Vietnamese noodle shop used to be Pho Anh Dao on State Street, but it’s now out of business. So for good pho, I suggest a trip west. There are a dozen or more Vietnamese restaurants serving pho in the neighborhood that’s come to be known as “Little Saigon,” at the crossroads of Taylorsville and West Valley City. A few worth trying are Pho Saigon Noodle House, Pho Cali, Pho 99 and Pho Bien Hoa. Some, like Pho 99, tend to cater mostly to Vietnamese customers, and can be a little intimidating if you’re a pho rookie. If so, try Pho Hoa on Redwood Road. It’s a terrific spot for pho beginners and experts alike.

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Pho Hoa is actually a chain restaurant, with locations all around the world. But it doesn’t have a chain look or feel to it. It’s a brightly lit space with servers who are equipped with better-than-average English. The pho at Pho Hoa is divvied up into three categories: beginner, regular and adventurer. What differentiates the three levels of pho is basically the protein chosen to go into the broth. Order beginner pho tai (steak pho) and here’s what you’ll get: A large, steaming bowl of beef broth flavored with onions and ginger. At the bottom of the bowl are perfectly cooked (just slightly al dente) angel-hair style rice noodles. The noodles-to-broth ratio of pho is a key factor, and I like that Pho Hoa is generous with their noodles. Thin, tender medallions of steak are added to the hot broth, and they cook right in the bowl. The whole thing is garnished with minced scallions and fresh cilantro, which along with the ginger and onions gives the pho a slightly sweet flavor.

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Pho at Pho Hoa runs $5.50 for a “small” bowl (there’s nothing small about the small bowls at Pho Hoa) and $6.50 for a large one. It’s a one-dish meal, and other pho options include the “Regular” tripe and beef tendon and the “Adventurer” crunchy or fatty flank. The main difference in the pho levels is one of texture of the meats more than flavor. The basic steak pho incorporates melt-in-the-mouth slices of meat, whereas tendon tends to be very chewy. In addition to meat-based pho, Pho Hoa also serves chicken pho and a zippy hot-and-sour seafood pho.

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It doesn’t end there, though. As I mentioned, there are endless opportunities to make pho your own. At most restaurants, pho comes with a plate of accoutrements'crunchy bean sprouts, lime wedges, fresh Thai basil (and sometimes spearmint) and sliced hot peppers (usually serranos or jalapeños). You just customize your pho as desired. In addition, tables at pho parlors are usually equipped with hot Sriracha pepper sauce and hoisin sauce for squirting directly into the bowl, along with soy sauce, fish sauce, bean sauce and hot chili oil. With pho, you really can have it your way.

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PHO HOA
n3460 S. Redwood Road
n972-9000
nOpen daily for lunch & dinner

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