When I watch food shows on TV, I pay close attention to what street cooks do. Not celebrity chefs cooking on a street corner pretending to cook street food. I mean, the real street food cooks because they are the ones who truly have a feel of the food culture of a place.
In an episode of a Bobby Chinn show, for instance, he was learning how to make phở broth properly. Did he seek a tutorial from a five-star restaurant chef? No, he did not. He went out on the street and learned from the true masters.
A good bowl of phở has a variety of things. The meat may be chicken, beef, pork, seafood or none at all. The vegetable combination is endless. The traditional accompanying herbs are Thai basil, mint and cilantro. A slice of lime is also traditional. But everything starts with a good broth. In making phở broth, it isn’t enough that you have bones and vegetables to simmer. You have to char the aromatics. Yes, char them, either on a grill or an open flame.
You can’t be stingy with the bones either because a good broth has highly concentrated flavors. A bland broth, no matter how much salt and aromatics you add to it, will still taste flat.
The cooking procedure is a bit involved but it’s a good way to understand why phở tastes the way it does and why it is distinct from the noodle soups of other Asian countries. »