A while back, I posted about instant pho kits and someone commented on how he loved a quick bowl made from the contents of the little boxes of pho bouillon sold at Vietnamese markets. I’d seen them but never went near them. They are typically stocked at the cash register or shelved in the spice aisle. Each box measures about 2 1/2 inches by 3/4 inch thick and there are many kinds to cover the most popular Viet dishes.
I took the plunge and got a box of “vien gia vi” (literally seasoning cube in Vietnamese). There are 4 cubes to a box and each one makes 2 servings. That’s a lot of flavor packed into each. Was the product good? Is it a viable pho shortcut?
Ingredients and Cooking Instructions
The ingredients listed on the box were: Salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate, anistar [SIC, they meant star anise]. It’s ironic that despite being labeled a spice cube that the only spice is the star anise. Additionally, the ingredients are presented only in English and French, no Vietnamese. Do they think that Viet people don’t care about what’s in their food?
The cube that you see above seemed like it was a bit waxy from fat. It does not say, “Use me, eat me, I’m filled with flavor.” Despite my skepticism, the cube smelled like a good bowl of pho. I was curious.
The instant pho cube instructions were only in Vietnamese and they tell you to put one cube into 1/2 liter (generous 2 cups) of boiling water, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then use the liquid for 2 bowls of pho with 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) of banh pho flat rice noodles in each bowl.
Seeing as how this product is made in Vietnam, I assumed that they were calling for fresh rice noodles. I guesstimated it at 4 ounces of dried and soaked 8 ounces some in hot water until pliable. I was fixing lunch for my husband and me.
The cube seemed a little strong with 2 cups of water so I increased it to 3 cups. (If you use this stuff, add water to taste.) I also added the white parts of the several green onion to perk things up. What I wasn’t ready for were the strange layer of scum and dark bits that floated to the top. The smell was kind of nice but the particulates looked gross. After simmering the green onion for several minutes, I got my scum skimmer out and removed as much of the dark bits as possible. Gross.
It must have been the “anistar.” I imagine that the waxy stuff was beef fat, perhaps for flavor but also to hold the other ingredients together. After all, they are technically all dry.
We had some grilled beef steak left over in the fridge and I decided to put that in my quickie pho. Then I topped it with the usual yellow onion, scallion, and cilantro.
Looking good, huh? I circled back to the hot pot of broth. I remained a bit skeptical and hoped that whatever the stuff was that was in the cube was not going to harm me. The fact that the company may have not disclosed everything used in the cube worried me. On the other hand, this is a product that countless other people have used and I hadn’t heard a complaint. So I filled our bowls with the instant pho cube broth and presented them at the table.
We were famished and dove in. It was.... okay. Not as weird as we thought, though it lacked the body and depth of a bowl made from scratch. I have no idea how much MSG there was in there but I advised my husband, a broth slurper, to not eat all the liquid. While it tasted okay, who knows what eating it all up could have done to us.
Turns out, the stuff was harmless. No bad side effects. However, the little pho spice cube box has sat on my kitchen counter for weeks. I look at it as a novelty or decor, but not as something I want to cook with. There’s something to be said about truth in labeling that elicits consumer faith in a product.
You know that I occasionally reach for a package of instant pho loaded with MSG and the like but there was just something strange about the spice particulates and waxiness of the these cubes. I didn’t fully trust them. But should I?
If you’ve tried this or similar instant Viet noodle soup cubes, let me know your thoughts. I’m open minded. After all, I’ve not discarded them!
- Instant Pho Packages: The Low Down
- Faux Pho: What is it and does it matter?
- Pho in a box (I bought this in 2008 at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airport)
- Chicken pho noodle soup recipe
- Beef pho noodle soup recipe
- Instant Pho Fixes: Pacific Foods, Trader Joe’s and Happy Pho
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Banh Pho Flat Rice Noodles