January 20, 2012

The most expensive soup I've ever made.

Is there anything better than pho on a rainy day? Luckily for us, it’s rainy in Portland quite often. The first time we had pho together was for Dave’s 32nd birthday. I was working downtown at the time and took the MAX in the pouring rain to join Dave at a pho joint near his office. I only had to walk a few blocks from the MAX stop to the restaurant, but by the time I arrived I was cold and wet. Dave arrived soon after, his hoodie drenched. We placed two orders for the same pho and patiently waited, knowing the steamy broth would warm us up. When our pho arrived, we discovered we prefer it prepared completely different. Once our condiments were added, our pho looked like two different dishes. Dave enjoys his with plenty of Hoisin sauce, lots of Thai basil, lime juice and a squirt of Sriracha. I absolutely hate the taste of Thai basil and prefer to go heavy on the Sriracha (we’re talking red broth) with extra bean sprouts and bits of jalapeno. Fact: if I’m eating pho there is a 75% chance I will get jalapeno residue in my eye. Thankfully, I didn’t on our first pho date, but Dave has witnessed the swollen eyed jalapeno cry on many occasions.

We’ve ate pho dozens of times at places all around town, but have never made our own. So, home sick one weekend in October, I decided to change that. And let me tell you, I don’t think I will be making it again. Not because it wasn’t delicious – the pho was fantastic and we ate every last drop, but rather because it’s pretty expensive and time consuming to make. Sure, now that I have the majority of the ingredients on hand it would be cheaper, but have you ever bought grass fed beef leg bones from New Seasons? They are expensive. Since the bones are what provide that rich, delicious flavor, I wanted good bones, but I don’t enjoy spending $20 on something you throw away afterwards. Of course I could have bought the cheap, unmarked bones from the Asian market, but I can’t read Chinese and the idea of buying bones from the unknown parts of an unknown animal was a bit… scary. I should note I called Safeway and Fred Meyer and was told bones weren’t available. I also called a local meat market in town and was quoted a ridiculous price, so New Seasons it was. Which resulted in the most expensive soup I've ever made.

Ok, on to the pho making. I used a recipe I found in Saveur Magazine. I skipped the dried scallops the recipe calls for as I couldn't find any. This pho was pho-cking good (I had to get one pho pun into this, didn’t I?) Dave says it was one of the best he’s ever had and he’s probably not being biased. I know this because I made him my favorite cookies a while back (on a weeknight!) and he said they were “just ok.” Just ok?! Ahem. 

 A warning for those of you who have never boiled bones before – they smell. Bad. I’ve smelled lots of disgusting things in my life – I grew up on a cattle farm where gross smells were inevitable. But the smell of marrow being boiled out of bones ranks high on my list of “things I never want to smell again.” Also on this list:  Shalimar perfume, the basement of the fraternity house I lived next door to in college and burnt hair. But you know what smells awesome?  Shallots and ginger under a broiler. And this recipe calls for them. It also requires toasting fennel seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. Toasted spices = awesome smells.

Why do I not have any decent photos of the shallots or spices? Can I pull out the "I was sick with a cold" card?
At this point, I had been waiting hours to eat the pho, so I didn't even bother to photograph the broth on its own. The delicious smell had been permeating our apartment all afternoon and I was impatient. It was delicious and we polished our bowls clean.At this point, I had been waiting hours to eat the pho, so I didn't even bother to photograph the broth on its own. The delicious smell had been permeating our apartment all afternoon and I was impatient. It was delicious and we polished our bowls clean. I even managed to not get jalapeno in my eye. If it had tasted terrible though, I would have forced Dave and I to eat all of it. I wasn't about to let those $20 bones go to waste. While making pho from scratch was fun, the next time I want pho, instead of spending an afternoon boiling bones, chopping and waiting impatiently, I'm walking five blocks up the street and letting someone else do the work. A large bowl will only set me back $6.50.


  1. I have never used bones when making Pho and that's probably why there is always "something" missing. I can't imagine how yummy that must have been.

  2. Kudos to you for making Pho yourself! I love pho, especially when I'm sick, but M isn't big on it. Homemade Pho might change his mind... but I don't know if the price of it would. Yikes!

  3. I use to eat my pho the way Dave ate it until I realized that I like the taste of the natural broth more. now instead I squeeze out a lot of hoisin sauce and one big dot of siracha and place a dab of it on my noodles and meat. MMMM. & I wish I had the patience to make pho at home. & pho on a cold, rainy day is the best.

  4. Seriously impressed with your tenacity! This is one of those "I've always wanted to... But probably never will" kinda things for me.

    The bakery manager at the Safeway I used to work at is from Vietnam and we bonded greatly due to my love for pho (to the point where she brought me take-out from her favorite place more than once, awww...). She said even she doesn't make it at home from scratch unless she's entertaining a large number of people, because it's just too much trouble!