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In Hawaii, we are blessed with warm sunny weather year round. When some places in the world are three feet under snow, we’re slathering on the sunscreen for a hot, bright beach day. However, occasionally in the winter months, the temperature in Honolulu can dip into the 60s- freezing by local standards! Laugh you may, but when this happens, sniffles, coughs and sore throats become the tune you hear around town. Thank goodness for our secret weapon – forget the chicken noodle soup, we have Pho!
Time for some pho! Great for those occasional rainy days in Hawaii.
Now you may be thinking, what the Pho is Pho? (Pronounced “fa”). Between the years 1975 and 1989, huge waves of Vietnamese immigrants came to Hawaii seeking refuge from the Vietnam War and their homelands political situation. Like all immigrants around the world, the Vietnamese people brought with them their traditions, religions and food. Pho is one of these foods, an aromatic soup containing meat, vegetables, rice noodles, herbs and the overwhelming feeling of warmth and contentment.
The first bowl of Pho was born in the 1880s in the Nam Dinh province southwest of Hanoi. It is a blend of French and Chinese influence – red meat from France, rice noodles and spices from China, and Vietnamese ingenuity. The broth is and all day boiling affair usually containing beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, charred ginger, and spices such as Saigon cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, coriander, fennel seed and clove. Beef variations such as steak, fatty flank, tendon, tripe and meatballs are the most popular pho ingredients, however most restaurants have chicken and vegetarian Pho as well. Thin, delicate rice noodles are cut almost like fettuccine and are the fill-you-up sustenance of any bowl of Pho.
When receiving your bowl of Pho, a colorful array of fresh garnishes come with it. The typical garnish plate contains Thai basil, bean sprouts, cIlantro (saw toothed coriander leaf), green onion, chili pepper and lemon or lime wedges. Condiments such as Sriracha, chili-garlic sauce, chili garlic oil and Hoisin (plum) sauce are added to taste.
The pho must-haves that can be a game of spicy roulette.
Now if you have never eaten Pho before, you’re probably wondering, “How the Pho do I eat Pho!?” When I receive my piping hot bowl of Pho, I initially tear the Thai basil and cilantro into small pieces to “steep” in the broth. Then I add a small handful of bean sprouts and green onion, a couple pieces of chili pepper, and all the lemon or lime juice I can squeeze out of the wedge. I then mix a glob of Hoisin and chili-garlic sauce (I’m not a huge Sriracha fan) separately until it tastes just right, and then stir it into my bowl. And voila! The perfect Pho.
Step one to eating pho: Pretty up your bowl with some fresh garnishes.
Whenever I get sick, the aromatic herbs and spices in Pho provide the healing medicinal properties I crave. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”, Pho is my warming prescription of deliciousness that I can’t get enough of. So if you’re in the islands long enough to bust out the wool socks and hoodie sweaters once the mercury goes down to 64, don’t pho-get to get some Pho!
Here is a list of some favorite Pho restaurants on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island:
PHO SAIGON • 655 Ke’eaumoku St. • 808-955-1069
PHO THINH • 2080 King St. • 808-947-3638
HALE VIETNAM • 1140 12th Ave. • 808-735-7581
PHO NINA • 2743 S. King St. • 808-942-4577
PHO SAIGON 808 • 658 Front St. Wharf Center, Lahaina, 96761 • 808-661-6628
• 80 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, HI 96720 • 808-935-1080
PHO SAIGON • 75-5722 Hanama Pl., Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 • 808-326-2000