On my way to my neighbourhood T&T Supermarket to pick up a couple of things in order to continue my pho quest, I decided to hit up a restaurant that had been recommended to me months ago by another Yelp user. Before I talk about Pho Phu Thinh, I’ve got to mention something about the Chinese market right beside the restaurant.
I’m a fan of Asian markets and all the goodies you can find there that usually can’t be found anywhere else. Sun Tung Fat Supermarket looks like many of the other small markets I’ve been in: closely grouped aisles, a bit dusty, no discernable strategy for organization, tons of intriguingly strange things in jars and bags, and English not being the first language (or second) spoken by 99% of the people in store. After drifting through the veggie aisle (with prices comparable to Superstore), I turned up the next aisle and found myself in a land of jars and cans of the kinds of things I like to see… chilli pastes and soup mixes. I found a jar of one of the pho soup bases that I picked up at 88 Super Market with Denise. I was happy because Sun Tung Fat is waaaay closer than 88 Market. My joy was short-lived though. The picture to the right is the jar I bought at 88, not from STF. Why wouldn’t I buy it from STF? Besides not needing it right now, the Best Before date was some time in 2011. I quickly scanned some of the other jar lids and they were all the same. Poop. On the shelf directly below, there was this other jar that caught my eye. It was a chilli paste with sweet basil leaves. That sounded delicious. Still recovering from being burned by the pho broth mix, I check the lid for the best before date. Sure enough, it was expired too. This one expired some time in the middle of 2010! I put the jar back on the shelf and left the store. I wouldn’t risk buying anything at this place.
As scary as Sun Tung Fat was, Pho Phu Thinh was a big bag of awesome. I walked in to this clean restaurant with a nice, warm color scheme and was immediately greeted and sat at a table. Within minutes, I had ordered the House Special (noodle soup with sliced rare beef, well done flank, fatty flank, soft tendon, tripe and beef balls) and was warming up with a nice tea. The broth was awesome. Easily one of the best I’ve had. Rich, flavorful and mostly clear. I would have that instead of tea if I could. A nice selection of meats, but only half of a beef ball. I’ll have to order extra next time I go in.
T&T Supermarket always makes me buy more than what I go in for. All I wanted was Thai basil and some beef balls. While I was wandering the clean, well-organized aisles, I ended up getting another half dozen things, including some new soup spoons. I have some of the ceramic Chinese soup spoons, but they’re rather fragile. I’ve broken two of them in the last few months. These new ones are melamine with longer handles that end with a bit of a hook, to keep the spoon from sinking down into the bowl. Just realized that I forgot to look in the chilli paste aisle to see if I could find an un-expired chilli and basil paste. I should add that to my grocery list.
I gathered all my ingredients for my faux pho around 11pm. As I start unloading the fridge and cupboard, I realize that a lot of stuff goes into each bowl. Let’s see if I can name everything in the picture starting in the bottom left and spiralling in clock-wise. Yeah, that’s not going to be confusing or anything. OK… bowl with spoon and chopsticks, sriracha, hoisin sauce, thinly sliced steak, thin-sliced roast beef, fresh cilantro, serrano peppers, Thai basil, green onions, bean sprouts, vermicelli noodles, sweet onion (in a cool onion keeper), beef balls, pho broth mix, crushed chillies in oil and finally, lime juice. What is that? Fifteen ingredients? Nice. After making a bit too much broth the last time, I decided to get smart and measure out the water in my bowl first. Worked like a charm. Ish. I should have accounted for a little boiling down. Trying to cut back on the starchiness of the final product of the last few times I’ve made soup, I pre-soaked my noodles. This didn’t work as well as I would have liked. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just dirty two pots: one for the broth and one for the noodles. After all was said and done, my soup wasn’t as soupy as I would have liked it. More of a stew/gravy thickness and not that rich, clear broth like earlier today in the restaurant. That’s not saying that it wasn’t tasty. It was. I’m sure I’d get a slightly different flavor profile by using a fresh squeezed lime, but the little plastic bottle is good enough for now. The steak cooked in the broth right after this picture was taken, both adding to the flavor of the soup and cooling it down enough to eat. As nice as those chopsticks are, the noodles don’t like them very much. Hard to hold anything with those slippery bastards. I have a few sets of wooden chopsticks around here somewhere. Need to give those a go.
Every time I make this soup, I learn a little more. One of these days I’m going to turn out a quick* bowl of soup that’s on par or better than my regular soup joint. It’s not far away. I just need to perfect the noodle cooking (read: stop being lazy and cooking them in my broth) and tweak the broth flavor. I’m thinking about adding a little chicken stock (Blasphemy!) for some depth. It’s hard being the only one tasting these creations, but I’m my own harshest critic. Once I get something I want to share, Denise will be my first guinea pig.
*By no means are these bowls of soup “quick” right now. They usually take 30-45 minutes to prep and make. I just mean quick in relation to how long it takes to actually boil down the beef knuckles and ox tail. I’m sure if I did the veggie prep work beforehand, I could get my bowl to the table in 10 minutes or so.