Sunday, January 8, 2012

Good for what ails you

There's a nasty bug going around - congestion and coughs and sinus headaches. Since the New Year, [The Man I Love] has been brought down low with it.

It's an old wives' tale that chicken noodle soup helps cure the common cold. I'm not sure whether it cures it or not, but a really good bowl of soup can sure make someone who's suffering a cold feel a lot better.

Yesterday, I took him out to South El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley for a bowl of Phở, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Garvey Avenue in El Monte is a wide paved hodge-podge of muffler and auto-body shops, tacquerias, markets and liquor stores and botanicas - and dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. Some have a full dining menu, others are simpler and more focused, but almost all of them serve phở.

Phở is a clear broth made with beef marrow bones, cooked for hours with spices that include cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. The broth is strained, defatted and clarified, and then heated again. To serve, the broth is garnished with sliced onions and cilantro, and poured over boiled noodles called banh phở, flat white rice noodles

Phở is served with meat, and there is a wide variety. For phở tai, Beef eye of round is thin-sliced, and the raw slices are added to the hot broth - the broth is so hot it cooks the tender raw beef. Other versions serve cooked sliced brisket, flank steak, tripe, something called "tendon," or little round meatballs. At a restaurant, if you see Ph dac biet on the menu, it means you get a little of everything.

It comes to the table in a huge steaming bowl, and alongside a platter heaped with herbs, bean sprouts, sliced green chiles, and wedges of lime. You customize it as you like - add a squeeze of lime, handfuls of sprouts, torn bits of fresh basil or sawtooth herb. Tables in phở joints have an assortment of condiments at the ready, like hoisin sauce, sriracha hot sauce and fish sauce.

We've sampled different restaurants in El Monte. One of our favorites, Phở Minh, is no more. So this time we went to Phở Huynh, which is just a few doors away.

Phở is said to have originated in the northern city of Hanoi. Before the French colonial era, cows were used primarily as beasts of burden, not a source of meat, but the French had different tastes. Lore has it that the French took the meat, leaving the Vietnamese the bones - perfect for broth. The word "phở" may be derived from the French "feu" or fire, as in "pot-au-feu" which is basically beef stew in a pot.

Streetscape outside of Pho Huynh
Hanoi-style phở bắc uses wider noodles and is less fancily garnished than southern phở nam, sometimes called phở Sài Gòn after that city.

Phở Huynh serves only phở - no other dishes. The soup is served in white ceramic bowls except for phở bắc, which comes to the table in huge double-wall steel bowls. Competition among restaurants on Garvey Avenue is fierce, and arose to the local custom of serving phở bac with sliced beef tenderloin or filet mignon.

The broth was absolutely fantastic - spicy and savory and steaming. The raw filet mignon was chopped or minced so that it fell apart in small pieces as it submerged into the noodly depths.

And the noodles - I've been eating phở for decades, but I've never had noodles like these. Thicker than most, they were soft and almost silken, slippery and toothsome. This was one of the best bowls of phở I've ever eaten.

And it's only $7.

You might think it's foolish to drive all the way to South El Monte for a $7 bowl of soup - but it was just the thing to cure a bad cold - worth it every mile!

Muffler Man on Garvey Avenue
 If you're under the weather and you're farther than you want to drive from a Vietnamese restaurant, you can try to make your own phở by following this crockpot recipe at Wandering Chopsticks.   I might just try it myself someday!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I think most any kind of soup is good for a cold. I liked hot and sour soup a lot for it, back in the day (the day was before Vietnamese cuisine was around much).

I haven't had the flu or colds much in the last decade, for some reason (knocks on firewood).

Xeompho said...

I live in Saigon and read a lot of Vietnamese food blogs - this is one of the best descriptions of pho I have ever read!
It is good and soothing for a cold. I am coughing today and planning on going to get a bowl of pho for my lunch.

M. Bouffant said...

Great muffler man!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

yes, over her ein NY I have been stuffed too....and find that spicy, like ginger and jalapeno, helps :)

Sheila said...

Is there anything that good or comparable for someone who doesn't eat cow?

Glennis said...

They make chicken pho - I've never had it though, because I like the beef so much.

Gilly said...

How do you eat soup with chopsticks??

Not being a great soup lover I've never considered it for treating a cold. A nice piece of buttered toast and a cup of tea, now.......

cactus petunia said...

Mmmm. I would drive all the way from Portland to El Monte for that, if I wasn't a vegetarian...

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that making soup from bones and fresh herbs and spices, with fresh veggies on the side, will cure your cold. And since you haven't posted for 2 days, I'm pretty sure you need some more pho!
Hope all is well.