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Vietnamese Pho: More Asian Comfort Food

I have to tell you, I’m really excited to share my story about pho.  I have LOVED pho for YEARS.  I first had pho over ten years ago at a local restaurant back home, and I’ve been going to the restaurant ever since.  The server that used to work there always knew that I ordered the same dish (sate beef pho) and it was always nice to go in, have some good food, and chat with her.  Every time I go home, I have to make it out to the restaurant to get my fill of pho.  Whenever I’m in Toronto, I like to go to Anh Dao (you can read about it here.)

So what is pho?  Well, it’s one of my Asian comfort foods.  It’s generally an inexpensive dish to order, is filling, and is very tasty (if done properly.)  It’s a rice noodle dish that is served in broth; it can be beef or chicken.  Pho is usually served with bean sprouts, lime, chili peppers, cilantro, and Thai basil.  Hot sauce, such as sriracha, and hoisin sauce are common accompaniments as well.

I have always wanted to learn how to make pho, but I never knew what recipe to use-there are so many on the web.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine, Thanh,  gave me his recipe to try-for which I am very thankful!

I was actually quite pleased with the result.  The trickiest things about making pho are tinkering with the spices and making sure you have patience.  Pho needs to simmer for at least 8 hours.  It’s definitely worth the wait.

Beef Pho-Ingredients

  • 2 lb beef soup bones (joints preferred; I doubled this and used 4 lbs)
  • 2 lb beef short ribs
  • 1 medium (1/4 lb) ginger root, sliced into 1 cm thick slices
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 lb Chinese daikon radish, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cube pho soup base*
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6 whole star anise pods
  • 1 tbsp whole anise seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick, pinky finger sized
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 black cardamom, split
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • rice noodles
  • thinly sliced raw beef sirloin
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • thinly sliced onion
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • ground black pepper
  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha hot chili sauce
  • bean sprouts
  • fresh Thai basil leaves
  • lime juice

*You can find these at Asian grocery stores in Chinatown.  I couldn’t find cubes of pho soup base (which do contain MSG,) but I found these pho spice bags, and used that instead.  Turned out just fine for me (plus there was no MSG in it.)

First, soak the soup bones and short ribs in warm water for 1 hour to leech the blood out.  Discard all the water.  Prepare 2 large pots of boiling water (about 5 L each.)  Add the soup bones and short ribs to the first pot and boil on high heat for 5 minutes.  Transfer the soup bones and short ribs to the 2nd pot and add enough boiling water to cover the meat.  Boil gently on medium heat for 30 minutes while skimming the froth from the soup every 10 minutes.  Reduce to medium heat.  I used a HUGE pot for this.  I had 4 lbs of soup bones plus 2 lbs of short ribs, so you can imagine that I needed a lot of water too.

Next, wash and peel the ginger.  I just eyed it: I used 2 big chunks of ginger that I had in the fridge.  When you slice it, slice it thick and slice it so you get a large surface area-this will enable release of more flavour.    I sliced my onions into slices.  Grill the ginger and onion slices directly on a stove element on high heat.  You want them slightly charred.  Put the ginger, onions, and daikon radish in the broth.  Season the broth with your pho soup base or pho spice bag.

Using tightly woven cheesecloth, wrap and tie up the star anise, anise seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves, and black cardamom to form a teabag.  Drop this into the broth.

Simmer the broth with the lid on for 6 hours.  You’ll want to skim off the fat every couple of hours.  After the fourth hour, you can discard your spice bag (I just left mine in for the full 6.)

After simmering for 6 hours, remove the short ribs and set aside to cool.  You can discard the bones at this point (I was lazy and left them in there.)  You can also discard the ginger, onion, and daikon radish with a strainer at this point.  Again, I was lazy and left it in there-plus I like daikon so I was intent on eating it.  You’ll want to add the fish sauce here and taste.  When I tasted the broth, it tasted bland at this point.  Just add some salt-this can really help bring out the flavour of the spices.  If you find that your broth is too salty, add some water.

Continue simmering the broth for another hour (I told patience is needed!)  In the meantime, take the meat from the short ribs and slice them thinly across the grain.  Again, I was lazy and just left it as is and just used chopsticks to separate the meat from the bones.  You’ll also want to prepare the beef sirloin at this point.  You need to slice this paper-thin so that it cooks on contact with the hot broth.  This is actually not that hard to do.  Freeze the beef for a couple of hours and then slice when it’s partially frozen (so think about when you’re serving this meal so you can time it all properly.)  You can prepare the rest of the ingredients for toppings.  Soak the rice noodles for 20 minutes, and then bring a pot of water to a gentle boil.  Boil the noodles briefly until cooked and then put them into individual bowls for serving.  Layer on the cooked beef and then the raw beef.  Ladle boiling broth over everything.  Top with whatever you prefer.

Note: After having some taste-tasters try my pho, I have concluded that doubling the spices wouldn’t hurt (and Thanh told me he does the same thing.)  I prefer my broth to have a stronger flavour, so next time I’ll double the spices.

This recipe makes A LOT of broth-I think enough for a good 6-8 servings, if not more (depending how big you make a serving.)

It’s fairly straightforward to make, but again, don’t be afraid to adjust the spices to your taste.  Thanh also told me it’s important to add the fish sauce near the end, so you can adjust the amount to your taste.

Enjoy!  Thanks again Thanh!  This will now be a staple in my cooking repertoire!



Asian comfort food and a student’s way of survival

Time to blog about something I love to eat-instant noodles.  I know it’s not healthy and that it’s junk food, but I can’t help it.  It’s comfort food to me, not to mention a quick and easy meal when I don’t have time to cook.  I’m a student, cut me some slack.

The thing I love about instant noodles is the sheer variety that’s available.  Japanese, Chinese, Korean noodles; spicy, not spicy; beef, shrimp, chicken.  It’s all very yummy.  Just don’t look at the nutritional content.

When I make instant noodles, I try to make it a better meal by adding extras to it.  Generally, I’ll throw in some veggies and an egg.  Sometimes, I’ll throw in a hot dog if I have it on hand (this is a very Hong Kong cafe-style way of eating instant noodles.)  Of course, you can add in whatever you like, but I favour lots of veggies and an egg.  But you have to be careful if you’re going to use an egg-it can end up breaking in the pot and then you just have egg pieces floating around, and that is not as tasty.  I’m telling you, cooking instant noodles is an art form.

I start by putting the flavour and oil packets in the water.  Bring the water to a boil.  Toss the noodles in.  Let the noodles soften for a bit, but don’t pull them apart.  Let it stay in a square form.  Carefully crack an egg on top of the noodles.  This way the egg will cook on top of the noodles.  Sometimes it’ll slip off the noodles, but if you haven’t broken the yolk, the egg should cook properly in one piece (which is what I aim for.)  I let the egg cook for a few minutes and then toss in my veggies.  You can cook the noodles as long as you like; this just depends on how soft you like them.  Also think about how well done you like the egg.  I always add a bit of hot sauce to my noodles too!

One of my favourite brands and flavour of instant noodles: beef!

Cooking away.

My meal.



Back home…

Wow, summer is just flying by!  I’m having way too much fun.  I’m very happy to be home though, as fun as my trip was, there really is no place like home.  Seeing all my family and friends is always a good time, and, of course, I’m always just so well fed when I come back for a visit!

This time around, I’ve been spending mornings with Gretchen.  She is a fabulous cook (she gets it from her mom), and my breakfasts have been really something.  I went to her place on Friday and she fed me a delicious gourmet breakfast (no, it was not all made that morning, some of it was leftover from the dinner her mom cooked the night before.)  I had a salad with homemade dressing, gourmet mac and cheese, French onion soup, roast lamb, apple and cheese puff pastry, coffee, and leche flan.  DELICIOUS!!!  We chatted for a few hours while I ate my way through all that food.  And after that breakfast I didn’t need to eat lunch!

I got to leave with some mac and cheese, and her recipe!

Gourmet Mac and Cheese

*recipe adapted from The Best of the Best in the Best of Bridge Series

  • 2 1/2 cups shell pasta
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 cups any semi-firm to firm cheese, grated
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/3 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups soft breadcrumbs or panko
  • handful of potato chips, crushed (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika to taste


Cook and drain pasta. Melt butter over medium heat in a sauce pan. Stir in flour, and mix well. Add milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sauce thickens.  Add salt, sugar and cheese. Mix well. Mix sour cream, cottage cheese, and paprika into sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Pour pasta into the sauce pan, mix thoroughly with the sauce, and then place in a casserole dish. At this point, you can serve it, bake it, or freeze it for later.


If you’re baking it, you can sprinkle it with the bread crumbs or the panko, then bake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes.


If you’re freezing it, then don’t add the bread crumbs or the panko right away. Instead, store in individual Tupperware containers. Thaw in the microwave for 3-4 minutes, pop it into a ovenproof bowl, and then sprinkle with the bread crumbs or panko. Broil for about five minutes, until the crust is crunchy and golden brown.  Note that for the crust, Gretchen used a combination of panko crumbs and crushed salt and pepper thick-cut Kettle Chips for extra crunch.

Also a note about cheese: The quality of mac and cheese depends on the quality of the cheese.  You can use a combination of whatever you have on hand.  However, higher quality cheeses obviously means it’s more expensive.  If you don’t indulge in gourmet cheeses, use a large amount of ordinary cheddar or mozza and then spice it up with small amounts of higher-end cheese.

This recipe was so delicious, I can’t wait to have more sometime!


Pork Congee

For those of you unfamiliar with congee, it’s a rice porridge that is a popular Chinese dish.  Because I grew up with it and ate it on a fairly regular basis, I forget that sometimes the texture can be displeasing to others.  If you can get past it though, a wonderful world of different types of congee will be open to you.  Because the base of it is just rice and water, you can make congee with almost any type of meat you like.  I personally like pork, turkey, and fish most.  I also like the Hong Kong style mixed-seafood congee.  Best of all is when you have a fried Chinese Doughnut and dip it in the congee.  Chinese Doughnuts are long fried pieces of dough.  I have yet to discover how those are made.

Here is a recipe for pork congee that I use.  I use a slow cooker to cook it, and mine is a 5 quart size-made enough to last me for several days.


  • 2 pork chops
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • green onion for garnish
  • 2 cups rice
  • water
  • handful of dried oysters and dried scallops (available from china town, though you could probably skip it)

Slice up the pork chops into bite size pieces and marinade briefly in soy sauce and sesame oil (just enough to coat all pieces and really, I only marinate for five minutes).  Then take all ingredients except for the onion and throw it all into the slow cooker.  I filled my pot up almost to the top with water: make sure you leave some room so when it starts to boil it doesn’t boil over.  Set your slow cooker to high for 4 hours.  Easy and delicious.