The past few months I’ve been thinking about how tough it is to maintain friendships. I see or talk to the majority of my friends only once a year, or even just once every two months, but, with only seven days in a week and even fewer days my weary body is willing to rock out, most of my time is spent in the company of my best friends. It’s a bit sad. So I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to make plans with those I don’t see nearly as often…ones that I may know mostly because I keep up with them on Twitter and Facebook. From what I read, we have much in common, but will our acquaintance-like relationship turn into a really solid one? I’m not sure. Making friends is easy; nurturing them is hard, and sometimes even complicated.
Now what does this have to do with Pho Bang’s Pho? Allow me to make a loose connection. Pho has always seemed like an extremely simple bowl of noodle soup to prepare. Beef broth, rice noodles, thin slices of beef with fresh basil, bean sprouts, wedge of lime, hot pepper slices to throw in as you pleased. Stir in some hoisin sauce and/or hot sauce to taste, and voila! You’ve got a semi-custom made bowl of soup.
When I went to Pho Bang with an old friend of mine, JB, he reminisced about the pho we used to eat in Philly. I forget the name of the restaurant, but it was almost like a second home. It was incredibly memorable; I mean, it’s been 11 years, and we’re still drooling about it. The #1 Tai Nam Gau Gan Sach ($5.75 for a regular bowl) – combination rice noodle beef soup with fresh eye of round, brisket, tendon and omosa (tripe?) – at Pho Bang didn’t engender the same reaction. I have to admit that I haven’t eaten a ton of pho since I’ve been living in NYC the past 10 years, but I’ve heard from some other friends that it’s one of the better places.
The rice noodles were chewy and not soggy, the plate of garnish was fresh, and the beef came a touch red, as usual, so it could finish cooking in the hot broth. But there was just way too much meat for me. And while I definitely wasn’t asking, “Where’s the beef?”, I was asking where the tendon and tripe were. I would’ve preferred a better balance of ingredients.
The broth, on the other hand, was just right – not a lot of oil and a touch sweet. It’s a healer, if you ever needed one. I left wondering what gives it its unique flavor, so I looked up various pho recipes online. Apparently, aside from beef and/or beef bones, there’s also ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and rock sugar. The cloves and cinnamon definitely surprised me since those flavors never seemed to appear in any of my slurping. But, what was even more surprising, was how complicated the recipes were. I always imagined a recipe with just two to three steps, each containing only one sentence of instructions, but what I found was unimaginable. Something that looked so simple was pretty complex. Much like our friendships. And I definitely appreciate something more when I know what’s behind it.
Making pho is harder than it looks; eating it is easy. So I think I’ll stick with buying my Vietnamese noodle soups made to order in a restaurant, maybe Pho Bang (maybe not), and will use the time I’ve saved towards building stronger relationships.
157 Mott Street (between Broome St and Grand St)
New York, NY 10013