pho is like putting together your own hamburger — you can have it your
way. So, before putting any pho into your mouth, add your own finishing
touches. Then dive in with a two-handed approach: chopsticks in one hand
to pick up the noodles, the soup spoon in the other to scoop up broth
and other goodies.
Whether you go out for pho or make a bowl at home (see my recipe), your pho
ritual may include:
sprouts: Add them raw for crunch or blanch them first.
Dip and wiggle thin slices of hot chile in the hot broth to release
the oil. Leave them in if you dare. For best fragrance and taste, try
Southeast Asian chiles such as Thai bird or dragon rather than jalapeños.
Serranos are better than jalapeños.
Strip fresh herb leaves from their stems, tear up the leaves and drop
them into your bowl. Available at Viet markets, pricey ngo gai (culantro,
thorny cilantro, saw-leaf herb) imparts heady cilantro notes. The ubiquitous
purple-stemmed Asian/Thai basil (hung que) contributes sweet
anise-like flavors. Spearmint (hung lui), popular in the north,
adds zip. [For details, see Essential
Viet herb page on this site.]
A squeeze of lime gives the broth a tart edge, especially nice if the
broth is too sweet or bland.
Many people squirt hoisin (tuong) or Sriracha hot sauce directly
into the bowl. I don't favor this practice because it obliterates a
well-prepared, nuanced broth. But I do reach for the hoisin and Sriracha
bottles to make a dipping sauce for the beef meatballs (bo vien).