Soup of the Gods
As I’ve pointed out in the past, the influence of one culture on another helps make exceptional cuisine. I also pointed out the French influence on Vietnamese cooking as well. You need look no further than the national dish of Vietnam, Pho. Born of the French stew Pot au Feu and adapted by Vietnamese people this dish can also be traced back to China. The resulting melting pot of ingredients, Chinese noodles in a French style beef broth with south Asian spices and vegetables makes for a very light yet hearty, simple yet complex dish.
Pronounced F–uh it seems to have been invented in the northern part of Vietnam in the early part of the 20th century. Simply noodles in beef broth with meat if affordable and/or available. The dish migrated south after the partitioning of Vietnam into two countries in the mid 1950’s. Perhaps as a way of distinguishing the dish from ones served in communist North Vietnam the democratic south started garnishing their soup with things like bean sprouts, lime juice, hoisin and various herbs. The introduction of Pho to North America further developed it into the soup we know today by introducing different meats such as chicken and shrimp. Purists scoff at this as traditionally a cook was judged on the delicate balance of the broth.
As with Fight Club, the first rule of Pho is there are no rules. You order a bowl of broth and noodles and whatever protein or combination there of you like with it. A popular choice is slices of rare and well done beef. A plate of bean sprouts, lime wedges, basil and a chili pepper are joined by the hoisin, fish sauce and chili sauce on the table. Mix and match, customize your bowl as you see fit. This may bristle some from the north but it’s up to you how you enjoy something. I always add a healthy squirt of hoisin and as much sriracha (chili sauce) as I feel I can handle. A few bean sprouts for crunch and I’m good to go.
Etiquette is also pretty loose. As with most Asian noodle dishes, slurping is allowed if not encouraged. Typically the broth is eaten with a spoon and then the solids are eaten with chop sticks.
For us, the best locally is at Pho Saigon.
The small restaurant in the Quaker Hill strip mall is just about as good as it gets. More than just a soup kitchen they offer noodle and rice dishes as well as appetizers. Shakes from different south Asian fruits like durian and jack fruit are joined by bubble teas.
Just about as addictive as the soup are the spring rolls. The shrimp and pork are tasty and very fresh. We ordered a sampler platter that also included pork spring rolls and egg rolls. The pork rolls are also very fresh tasting and as you can see, the egg rolls are deep fried and very full of meat. The fish sauce is good and goes with anything but the peanut sauce is amazing. It’s absolutely fabulous with the two spring rolls.
From the Rice part of the menu they have this incarnation of Pork Chop, Shredded Pork and Steamed Egg. Again, there's few rules there but generally you use the fish sauce (orange kind) the rice and then augment that with any of the other things. I added some of the shredded pork and a bit of egg. It was fantastic. As well, the pork chop was very tasty. A definite hit.
Also from the appetizer department are the Wings. If you’re a wing lover, you could do worse than visit an Asian restaurant to satisfy your craving. Simply put, most Asian restaurants make great wings. Deep fried and generally plain where these things shine is in the sauce. Most offer a sauce that’s a well rounded balance of sweet, sour and spicy. Pho Saigon’s editions are very hot. Medium is not for beginners. At first you may not think so but get a few in you and you’ll find they pack a wallop. They also have a nice deep, sweet, garlicky flavour, are cripsy yet still allow the chicken to shine through. Some of the best wings I’ve had.
We ventured into the noodles section of the menu as well. The noodle dishes are similar to the Pho but without the broth. The Vietnamese style fish sauce that accompanies is supposed to be poured over and eaten. I added some hoisin and sriracha of course.
You’re greeted with a nice pot of green tea which is always nice.
You can find Pho Saigon at 16925 Yonge St. in Newmarket, Ontario.
View Larger Map
Well that’s all for today. Hope to see you again in the food court.