June 2013: Vietnam
Official Language(s): Vietnamese
Some Other Languages Spoken: Akha, Cham, Gelao, Halang, Hmong, Khmer, Ma, Muong, Sedang, Takua, Zhuang.
Ethnic Groups: Kinh (Viet) 85.7%, Tay 1.9%, Thai 1.8%, Muong 1.5%, Khmer 1.5%, Mong 1.2%, Nung 1.1%, others 5.3%
Traditional Vietnamese dishes are often prepared with simple ingredients that result in interesting and complex flavors. The correspondence of the five elements (earth, water, fire, metal, and wood) to the spices, color, and nutrition of dishes is common. For taste, the corresponding five elements consistent of sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and salty. For color, the five elements are green, red, yellow, black, and white; and for nutrients, the elements are powder, fat, protein, minerals, and water. Many dishes incorporate the five senses as well (sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound). The balance of these elements in each dish is what often characterizes Vietnamese cuisine. Throughout the cuisine, and despite clear regional differences, rice, rich broths, fresh herbs, and pungent fish sauce abound.
Recipe: Pho (Beef and Rice Noodle Soup)
Pho, pronounced “fuh”, consists of thin rice noodles, fresh herbs, chiles, bean sprouts, a hint of lime juice, and paper thin beef in a rich, clear broth. The broth is made from slow-simmered beef (along with bones and marrow) and flavored with cloves, fennel, cinnamon, star anise, onions, ginger, and fish sauce. Other aromatics and garnishes are often added based on personal preference or geographical region. The key to a flavorful pho is all in the broth, so the use of large bones with marrow, toasted spices, charred onions and ginger, and the extra steps to guarantee a clear broth are only a few crucial factors to keep in mind.
2 yellow onions, halved
3″ piece of ginger, halved
5 pounds beef bones, knuckle and leg
6-7 quarts cold water
8 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
1.5 tablespoons salt
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
mesh pouch or cheese cloth
2 pounds rice noodles
2/3 pounds lean meat, sirloin, rib eye, thinly sliced against grain (uncooked)
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch thai basil
1 bunch mint
1 pound bean sprouts
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, sliced (optional)
For the Broth:
To prepare spices, place star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, and cloves in a small pan over low heat and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Place spices into a mesh bag or wrap in cheese cloth and tie at top.
Preheat broiler to high. Place onions and ginger onto a baking sheet and brush with cooking oil or spray. Place in oven on highest rack and cook, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes, until charred.
Fill a 10-12 quart stock pot with cold water. Bring to boil and add bones. Keeping a strong boil, cook for 10 minutes. Drain pot, rinse bones, and clean pot to get rid of all the scum and foam from the bones.
Refill pot with bones and 6 quarts of cold water, don’t worry about being exact. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer, skim off any fat that rises with a strainer or ladle. Once bones are boiling, add onions and ginger, sugar, fish sauce, salt and the spice bag. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-3.5 hours.
Strain broth into another large pot. Taste broth and if more flavor is needed add pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Repeat if needed.
If you are not eating the soup immediately, let pot cool and store in refrigerator overnight. The top will form a layer of fat. Skim fat and then bring to a boil and prepare bowls. If you are eating the soup immediately, keep the broth at a gentle simmer over medium heat.
Place steak into freezer for 15-20 minutes and then slice as thin as possible against the grains. Cook noodles according to package, however, if dry, you may cook them slightly al dente as they will finish cooking in the bowl.
Fill each bowl with some of the noodles and thinly sliced beef. Ladle broth into each bowl. The broth will cook the beef. Create a platter of lime wedges, jalapenos, sliced onions, herbs, green onions, and bean sprouts. Garnish your soup as desired. Serve the hoisin and sriracha sauces on the side to dip your meat into, if desired. Enjoy!!