Brazos By Night: Mastering Pho
Welcome to Brazos By Night! As our cookbook section grows, what better way to highlight it than by pairing cookbooks with local, independent restaurants that serve those cuisines? In this iteration, our bookseller Molly explores the Vietnamese dish of pho.
There are some things you want to cook in life, perhaps even master. There are also some things you just want to eat and never attempt to produce on your own. Pho has always been one of those things for me. However, the arrival of The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen has made me reconsider. So, armed with this great new cookbook, I set out on a journey with Ülrika Moats, Brazos’ gift buyer, to sample and understand Vietnam’s favorite soup and noodles.
Ülrika took me to a midtown restaurant called Simply Pho, which has a large, frills-free dining room with an abundance of tables and long counters where staff are busy with prep work. Each table is assigned a number where the chairs don’t match one another and the tables have a worn down patina that almost disguises the formica veneer. The beauty of this midtown restaurant is not the decor, but the food, so don’t let its casualness fool you.
Ülrika suggested I order a beef pho, and as the thinly sliced beef appeared on top of the thin noodles in my bowl, I noticed it turn colors from slightly rosy to pink as the meat continued to cook in the hot broth一a beautiful image of the dish that stood out to me in The Pho Cookbook too. Our waiter put down a large plate of Thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños, mint, and limes to add to my soup, and I was overjoyed at the number of sauces offered on the table to enhance my dish.
Ülrika continued to share with me why the interest in pho has grown exponentially, and why books like The Pho Cookbook are vital. “My girlfriend, whose mom is Vietnamese, won’t make pho, because she just doesn’t have the time. I’ve been eating it since my early twenties. To make it, you need bone marrow, neck, and feet and it takes four to five hours just to make the broth, if you’re lucky.” She went on to explain she tried to make it once, and it smelled amazing, but tasted like “pho nothing.”
Luckily, with The Pho Cookbook, this process will be easier for everyone.
With Tony Bourdain consistently proclaiming it’s his all-time favorite dish, I get the fuss. After paging through the cookbook and reading about the process, what can I say? I will now savor pho. But this cookbook isn’t just about pho. It has recipes for the sauces, for banh mi, and for Vietnamese coffee (with a primer of what instruments you need, etc.) There is even a “Pho Michelada” (pinch me). Often times, reading a cookbook about any cuisine teaches me more about putting together new flavor combinations and a lot about technique that enhances my cooking skills. Take for instance the Cashew, Coconut and Cabbage Salad (on page 141) that I made the other night, and swooned over.
Whatever your knowledge and/or love for pho, this is a cookbook to savor, and one that’ll help you finally master this intimidating dish.