Chicken Pho For The Soul

In case you haven’t heard, and I only found out myself recently, that the people of the United States all have their heads bowed and hovering over a fragrant bowl of beef or chicken broth with noodles, littered with a variety of herbs and crunchy things on top.

What are they eating? They’re eating pho, the national dish of Vietnam, and it is perhaps one of the most beloved and accepted dishes to make its way to the west from Vietnam since the fall of Saigon in 1975.

My kids have been raving about it for years, and somehow I’ve been missing the boat.

I actually depend on my grown kids to keep me informed on things I’m clueless about, like new apps for my phone, new words, new trends, and new ideas, but I hadn’t sought out pho soup until I was under the weather for a while at the same time my daughter was.

She was having huge quantities of pho delivered to her house in South Florida and demanded that I do the same. Guys, it was a life changing experience.

There is something very earthy and real about pho, made of intense bone broth of either chicken or beef, although other varieties are also available, like pork.

When you start a soup with something as nutritious as bone broth, you know that bowl of food is going to be good for you.

Bone broth has been proven to reduce inflammation and heal the gut.

People with inflammatory bowel disease or leaky gut syndrome may benefit from consuming bone broth.

Amino acids present within the broth are also helpful for digestion, and the gelatin content is said to be the source of many of its benefits.

In fact, many healing diets recommend drinking 8-10 ounces of bone broth when you start the day. You can make your own bone broth or buy it in a carton at the grocery store.

But, back to the pho, which requires many long hours in the making. Cartilaginous, marrow-rich beef bones are used to make the broth, left to boil and simmer in water on low heat for at least three hours, and the scum and foam formed by excess grease from the bone marrow are skimmed and discarded.

The broth is often then deepened with mild spices.

Depending on what you’ve ordered, thin slices of chicken or beef are added along with rice noodles at just the right time, and then bean sprouts and herbs are served on the side, with a little lime juice for taste.

So, what you get then, is a steaming bowl of bone both with chicken or beef, long gluten-free noodles, leafy green herbs, and bean sprouts, perhaps a hint of lime, and often, a side of a rich, dark sauce like hoisin, to add for more depth if you like.

Not only is it a bowl of beauty, it is also incredibly good, and if you’re sporting a cold, you can actually feel this soup healing you from your toes to the top of your head. You know what they say about grandma’s chicken soup. In this case, your grandma just happens to be Vietnamese.

If the pharmaceutical companies could turn pho into a pill they would, but that would take away the joy of eating it.

And lest you worry about trying something so unlike your favorite Campbell’s soup, I’ll remind you how pho has flourished in Vietnam in the last 100 years, and because of its versatility and popularity, Vietnamese eat pho everyday, at any time during the day.

One article I stumbled onto says, “Pho vendors do business everywhere in Vietnam, from pushcarts to neighborhood street stalls, from pho restaurants to elegant bistros. But most importantly, pho is the food of the working people.”

You can find it in all corners of the world now, even Erie, Pa.

North Vietnam and South Vietnam have their own versions of pho, with the southern dish a bit more hearty.

Purists insist the only pho is beef pho and that other varieties sprung up to accommodate non beef eaters. Personally, my favorite is the chicken. It is very satisfying and better for you if you’re going to be eating a lot of it.

The closest place to get authentic pho is in Erie, and also in Buffalo. Next time you’re headed there, stop in one of these restaurants.

And if you’re sick, you may beg someone you love to get in the car and make a special trip to bring some home.

If you know me well, you won’t be surprised to hear the sharing of food and culture is one of the only things I like about globalization. It’s a better world when we’re sharing what’s good about our cultures with one another.

And pho is one of those things.

Erie: Kao Thai Restaurant, Samurai Kitchen

Buffalo: Saigon Cafe, Pho Dollar Vietnamese Restaurant