It’s freezing here in Philly. So cold, that it was actually too cold to snow the other day—something I didn’t even know was possible! Of course, being accustomed to the heat of Miami, I am desperately looking for ways to warm up. I’ve taken up residence in front of my fireplace at home, wearing obnoxious down-feather slippers, and layering on North Face’s, but I think the best way to get warm is from the inside. And that means eating soup….lots of it!!
Since neither my mom or I felt like shedding enough layers to cook a pot of homemade soup ourselves, we decided to go out for some Vietnamese Phở at Phở & Beyond in Willow Grove. If you aren’t familiar with Vietnamese food, you might be wondering just exactly what Phở is. Here’s a little food for thought:
Phở is a beef noodle soup that is considered the “National dish of Vietnam.” The rich and aromatic Phở broth is prepared by boiling beef and chicken broth for twelve-hours along with spices and herbs such as ginger cloves, star anise, cinnamon, lemon grass, and cilantro, which creates a distinctly unique flavor. The delicate broth is then traditionally served with rice noodles and either sliced brisket or eye round steak. Most places also provide an accompanying dish of bean sprouts, lime, basil, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers to be added to the soup by the customer, according to desired taste.
As you may have guessed by the name, Phở & Beyond is particularly well known for their Phở, which is truly incredible!! When you walk into this restaurant and look around, almost every single person (90% of which are Vietnamese) has an oversized, steaming plastic bowl of this soup in front of them. And there are no doubts as to the authenticity of this place, because Vietnamese chatter is the soundtrack to your meal. If it’s good enough for natives, then it’s got to be the real deal!
I order my Phở with well-done brisket, lending it the specific name Phở Chin as opposed to Phở Tắi, which is with rare eye round.
The brisket is sliced super thin and it compliments the flavor of the delicate broth just beautifully. One of the only problems Phở presents for American diners is the actual eating process—aka getting the contents of the bowl into one’s mouth. The soup is served with two utensils; chopsticks and a porcelain soup spoon. This means that you need to coordinate eating the noodles with chopsticks in one hand and spooning the broth to your mouth with the other. It is a process that takes some getting used to and you can expect to feel entirely frustrated as the Vietnamese natives around you effortlessly devour their soup in a timely fashion. I am the fastest eater out of anyone I know, but the required eye-hand coordination of this feeding process brings me to a grinding halt and forces me to eat slowly.
Being a spice lover, I enjoy my Phở with jalapenos, which adds an unexpected heat to the delicate broth of the dish. I also like adding the fresh bean sprouts, which nicely contrast the soft rice noodles in their crispness. Oh, and the lime juice is a must because it adds the perfect amount of acidity to the soup, without a noticeably strong lime flavor. Also, my adopted Korean sister showed me that the best way to eat the meat of the soup is to pick it up with your chopsticks and swirl it in some hoisin sauce and/or Sriracha (Asain hot sauce) on a separate plate. I love condiments and dipping sauces, so I chose to eat mine this way and loved it.
Also good at Phở & Beyond are the Búns, which are rice vermicelli noodle dishes, occasionally served in lemon grass broth like soup. My dad ordered the Bún Đạc Biet, which is a house specialty containing grilled pork, grilled chicken, petit egg rolls, grilled shrimp, rice vermicelli, shredded lettuce, cucumbers, pickled carrots, and mint. All of this is then topped with crushed roasted peanuts and served with homemade fish sauce. It sounds like everything but the kitchen sink, and it kind of is, but some how all of the meats, flavors, and textures work together in an incredibly delicious way. I enjoyed bites of my dad’s dish just as much as I enjoyed my own soup. This dish is also a little bit easier to eat, especially if you ask for a fork!
My mom decided to have a light lunch and ordered the gỏi cuốn, which are garden spring rolls containing shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, cilantro, cucumbers, mint, and lettuce wrapped in rice paper and served with homemade hoisin-peanut sauce. The portion was really large for an appetizer, especially at a price point of just $4.50!! I would definitely order these again.
All of the portions are enormous (left-overs for sure) and the prices are really cheap. My Phở was only $7.50 and my dad’s fully loaded Bún was only $9.95. These are recession prices people, so go eat here to warm up for cheap this winter!