My husband and I were both skeptical, but for the sake of pho, we went to try the phorrito at Komodo in Los Angeles. It was December 2016, a couple days before Christmas. I posted a photo of myself eating the unusual noodle soup wrap on Instagram. There was curiosity, some disbelief, and a few jokes. But I liked the phorrito idea because it worked. From the outside, the burrito looked like a regular buritto but when you ate it, you also experienced the elemental aspects of pho.
When we ordered, I check out the other menu items available at Komodo and realized that the chef/owner Erwin Tjahyadi was Indonesian in background. He was versed in Southeast Asian flavors and as I watched the staff assemble phorritos for a busy lunch service, the process reminded me of popiah hand rolls that I’d eaten in Singapore.
Of Chinese in origin, popiah are wrapped in a wheat-flour pancake that’s like a super thin flour tortilla. Inside, there’s an earthy savory-sweet bean sauce somewhat like hoisin, plus some chile sauce. The filling varies but may include stir-fried jicama and stir-fried pork, Chinese sweet sausage and pieces of egg omelet.
Tjahyadi merged impressions of popiah, pho and the burrito to come up with a phorrito – a burrito stuffed with pho-ish goodness. It was brilliant. And if you’re still incredulous, popiah is the precursor to Vietnamese bo bia, a handroll made with rice paper.
The phorrito was created in 2014 and seen as a novelty. Last year, I read a story about it in a Vietnam-based newspaper. There’s a Hanoi restaurant serving phorritos! The phorrito doesn’t seem to be on the Komodo menu these days (Tjahyadi opened a new restaurant in 2017), but it lives on elsewhere. In fact, late last year, I read about MexiPHO, which had opened in November 2016 with an unusual blending of Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines. When something has ventured from trendy Los Angeles to Connecticut, I listen up and head to my kitchen.
First I watched a video of how the phorrito is made at Komodo:
Meet the Phorrito! Why does it work? Because pho has always been about cultures rubbing shoulders. And, yes, a pho-stuffed burrito tastes good! On VWK is the phorrito backstory and my recipe for you to experiment with.It requires a restaurant style-set up. The phorrito I got (above) didn’t have as much meat as what the video showed. Oh well. When you look at the phorrito made at Komodo and MexiPHO, the meat was very thinly cut with a deli slicer.
If you have The Pho Cookbook, you could use some of the cooked brisket or chuck from a pot of pho. Or, you could make the beef pho banh mi on page 89 and use that amazing meat for the phorrito. The lamb phonitas on page 88 would be awesome, too. So would the chicken from a batch of pho (any of the recipes from Master Pho, or the Instant Pot Chicken Pho recipe), and the pan-seared tofu (page 97) and pho tempeh (page 99) in the book. Just helping you to make the most of the recipes in the book!
But what if you don’t have the book or don’t have a pot of pho broth sitting around? What if you just want to streamline things and experiment with making a phorrito? In the video, they say the phorrito started out as a joke.
You could simply stir-fry beef with pho spices. I chose a marbled tri-tip beef steak (what I nickname “the poor man’s New York”) and sliced it super thin, just like for the rare steak in a bowl of pho. (You could get deli-sliced roast beef or use leftover grilled steak.) Then I seasoned it with my pho spice blend along with the usual suspects before cooking the beef off in a skillet. Just like the onion garnish in a bowl of pho, sliced onion got added at the end. You want pho flair!
For pho flavor in the noodles, I made a cheat of a pho-ish broth and reduced it to intensify its flavor. To that broth, I added soaked pho rice noodles, which absorbed the broth and finished cooking to a nice springiness. You don’t want the noodles to be heavy. The noodles pick up some brown color from the spices and broth but that’s just natural.
My husband bristled at doubling up on carbs (he’s not a fancy, stuffed burrito fan), but I grew up on French fries and rice at dinner. Interestingly, once you assemble the phorrito, you realize that there isn’t much noodle that can go in the wrap. The bean sprouts take up space, as does the beef.
The hoisin and chile sauce make the phorrito sing, as does a fair amount of fresh herbs to contrast and deliver the refreshing flavor of a bowl of pho. That’s why you see me spread the hoisin to cover most of the tortilla. I used my homemade hoisin sauce.
For the chile sauce, sriracha can be intense so you may want to opt for chile garlic sauce, which is the chile sauce Huy Fong developed for the Vietnamese market to begin with. You can thin out the chile sauce before adding it. The phorrito I got was not as spicy as the video makes it out to be.
Aside from flavor, the hoisin helps to hold the tortilla together because the condiment is sticky. It’s an unusually good combination of textures, flavors and visuals that conveys the Vietnamese-Mexican spirit.
At core, pho has always been about cultures rubbing shoulders. It likely evolved from a multicultural set of circumstances in which the French left beef carcasses and bits for Viet and Chinese butchers and noodle soup vendors to creatively use up. With the diaspora of Vietnamese people all over the globe, pho has taken on different dimensions to evolve.
That why the last recipe in The Pho Cookbook is for a Pho Michelada beer cocktail. It’s my tribute to the connection between the two cultures. There are many Mexican staff and customers at pho joints and both cultures love light beer with ice. So why not a beer cocktail? Why not a phorrito?
Here’s my recipe for you to play with. Enjoy!
My spring cooking classes are filling up. Here’s what’s in store:
- April 7, 11am-3:30pm, Pho Celebration, Santa Cruz (6 left)
- April 21, 9:30am-1:30pm, Pho + Dumplings, Napa Valley
- May 1, 6-8pm, DIY Tofu Tuesday, San Francisco (just opened)
- May 12, 11am-3pm, Dim Sum Party, Santa Cruz (new class! 6 left)
Hope to cook and eat with you soon!
And, The Pho Cookbook is a finalist for a major cookbook award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, a leading organization in the food industry! Getting into the finals is an incredible nod for the food and cultures that we all embrace. Thanks for your support. It’s been a great #Phobruary!
Yield 4 servings
Soaked noodles can be refrigerated for days. Ditto for the cooked beef. That way, you can make a phorrito quickly! You can make this into 2 or 3 overstuffed burritos by using a larger tortilla. I purchased regular “buritto” size flour tortillas. Gluten-free tortillas would work too.
Noodles and Beef
- 5 ounces dried flat rice noodles (banh pho, pad Thai, rice sticks)
- 12 ounces beef steak
- 3/4 teaspoon packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons Pho Spice blend, divided
- About 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola, or pho fat (harvested from a batch of pho broth)
- Generous 1/2 cup sliced yellow onion, divided
- 2 thick slices ginger, each about 1/4 inch thick, crushed with a meat mallet or heavy knife
- 3/4 cup chicken broth (preferably Swanson low-sodium), or beef or chicken pho stock
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar, or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 4 (10-inch) burrito-size flour tortillas
- 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup Homemade Hoisin or store-bought hoisin sauce
- Sriracha or Chile Garlic Sauce
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups coarsely chopped mixture of fresh cilantro, mint, and Thai basil (use one, two, or all three)
- 1 1/3 cups bean sprouts
- 1 moderately hot chile, such as Fresno or Jalapeno, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion, green parts only
- Put the rice noodles in a bowl and add hot tap water to cover. Let sit for about 15 minutes, until opaque and soft. Then drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cut the beef into chunks about the size of a tangerine. Set on a plate and freeze for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and very thinly slice across the grain. Transfer to a bowl and combine with the sugar, 3/4 teaspoon pho spice blend, 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch.
- Heat a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high or high heat. Swirl in the oil (or fat). Add the seasoned beef, spreading it out. Let cook, undisturbed, for about 1 minute, until it starts browning. Then use a spatula to vigorously stir and move the beef around to stir-fry. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until just cooked through. Add 1/3 cup of onion, stir, and when it softens, turn off the heat. Transfer to plate to hold and cool.
- Return the skillet to the burner. Add the ginger and remaining sliced onion. Stir and cook until fragrant. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Pho Spice blend. When aromatic, add the broth. Bring to a boil and let cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Lower the heat to a bare simmer and remove the ginger. Season the liquid with the sugar (or maple syrup) and fish sauce for a savory-sweet flavor. You may need extra fish sauce if the broth is not very salty. Want more pho notes? Add some spice blend!
- Dump in the drained noodles. Turn and fold to coat the noodles with the warm broth. When soft, about 1 minute, turn off the heat. Let cool or transfer to a plate or bowl to cool quicker. Use warm or at room temperature; before using, taste and add extra fish sauce, if needed.
- You can follow the Komodo video to assemble the phorrito. However, I did mine differently because my tortillas were smaller and I wanted to have one end open (I’d rather have extra filling rather than folded up tortilla. For each phorrito, warm a tortilla directly over a flame for 5 to 10 seconds, until warm and slightly softened (or use a skillet and medium heat); turn it once or twice. Put on your work surface.
- Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce to cover most of the tortilla. Smear on a little chile sauce if you like. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup herbs in the lower half of the tortilla. Top with 1/3 cup bean sprouts. Add a quarter of the noodles. Add a little hot sauce and/or hoisin, if you like. Then top with a quarter of the beef, a shower of green onions, and some fresh chile.
- Fold in the right side of the tortilla, then roll from the bottom up to create a phorrito with one open-end. Repeat to make 3 more (or tell your guests to make their own). Enjoy.
Courses lunch, dinner
Cuisine Vietnamese, Mexican