(That’s ‘more pho’, naturally.)
So yes, last week I’d purchased pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup for the uninitiated) three times. And, because I wasn’t quite sick of all that fish sauce yet, I decided to make my own.
I found a recipe, I wrote a list of ingredients, and I went shopping.
First, to the farmer’s market. Where I stood at the Silver Sage Beef stall and asked stupid questions about bones. One of the guys, possibly the owner, pointed me to a bag of frozen bones and shrugged as I asked about marrow content (because the recipe had specified using only 20% marrow bones otherwise the broth would be too greasy).
I felt like I was buying dog food, to be honest. Even if it was organic dog food.
After procuring the bones, I had a host of other things to find: vermicelli rice noodles, thai basil, and star anise. Could I have gotten these things at the Superstore? Most likely, yes. Did I, instead, drive clear across town to patronize the T & T [Asian] Supermarket?
Most definitely, and with the two oldest wonder boys in tow.
We pulled into the ‘Pacific Plaza’, clearly a designated landing spot for all manner of Asian businesses, judging from the preponderance of foreign-symbol-signs.
The first clue that I’d perhaps gotten more than I’d bargained for? No parking. I ended up squeezing the beastly car-van into a spot designed for a Honda Civic.
We entered the shopping center and found we’d entered another world. Asian liquor store. Asian dentist. Asian restaurants. Bubble Tea. Red everywhere. Large displays of the kinds of items only children find fascinating, like the monster head with the waving arms. Under which an eloquent sign reposed: U Break U Buy.
‘Don’t TOUCH!’ I threatened through clenched teeth because I was not about to drop $20 or $30 on a monster with a waving arm.
We found the entrance to the T&T and I have to say a feeling of adventure descended upon me. ‘Isn’t this exciting?! I sighed wide-eyed.
We stopped at the Tea and Ginseng Stall for some bubble tea. Mango and Coconut for the Gort. Mango and Lychee for the Hen. ‘Large or small’ the kid manning the stand, asked, pointing to the tubs of black pearls. ‘Large?’ I guessed, unsure if one was better than another.
It was all going swimmingly until the boys ingested their first tapioca ball. Their initial enthusiasm died. Immediately.
But, as children who’ve gotten expensive treats for centuries have done, they didn’t come right out and say: ‘blech, gross, I don’t like this bubble tea.’ No, theirs was a much more subtle disengagement. They began holding their cups by their sides, far away from their mouths. After a while the cups were placed in the shopping cart. ‘Could you carry this for a while,’ one of them asked politely. And after that they said things like ‘when I get home, I’m going to share this with Percy.’
The kiss of death, the final farewell: voluntarily sharing something with one’s baby brother.
If I had to list my three biggest fears, I might say: (1) being involved in a car crash, (2) something happening to any of the Johnson boy-men and (3) China.
Yes, I have a deep-seated fear of China. Strange, but true. When I think of China, I think of (no offense to my vast Chinese readership) too many people, pollution and scary food. I also think of poop, and for this I mostly blame David Sedaris. I’d been aware of the Chinese habit of defecating in public, but then I paid money and listened to David Sedaris talk about it at length. Though I laughed, I also twisted my insides from physically cringing at least a thousand times in fifteen minutes, and could barely ingest my sweet potato fries afterwards. (Do click on the link if you enjoy Sedaris’ stories!)
So there, at the T & T Supermarket, I was sort of facing one of my biggest fears – China. I was navigating a very crowded store, surrounded by scary food (and scary smells) and a surprising number of store displays of Almond Roca.
Is Almond Roca very popular in China?
But, I have to say, navigating a little bit of China is much less scarier than tackling the real deal. I found the star anise. Found the rice noodles (or the entire aisle devoted to them, I should say) and I even walked away with a package of kaffir lime leaves which I’ve never seen anywhere else.
And then I walked back to my hulking minivan (whilst carrying two rather full cups of bubble tea) and drove off into the [Western] sunset, delighting in my ability to read the road signs.
At home, I parboiled the meat bones. I boiled the meat bones. I skimmed the fat. I skimmed more fat. I made a ‘spice bag’ to hold the star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, etc. For three hours I tended that broth, all while the Gort darted in and out of the kitchen: ‘is it ready yet? Is it ready now? Can I have some?’
It was 9pm when we Johnsons finally sat down to eat the homemade pho. The homemade pho that was glistening with many, enormous pools of grease – because there’d been too much marrow in the bones.
The verdict: my pho was rather tasty (once I left the broth overnight in the refrigerator and chiselled off three inches of grease.)
But as I sat there eating my tasty soup, I did some math: five to six hours of my time (if you include the shopping trips) and money spent on ingredients and gas for the car…..yep, I spent more than what I would have if I’d driven to Lemongrass and ordered 5 bowls of #38, not too spicy.