02.23.09: qu'est-ce que c'est?

101 in 1001 {II}: 077 make ramen or pho from scratch [completed 02.22.09]

bad soup rising (1 of 2)

sexy foreign soupmaking was never going to be an especially logical proposition, and i knew that. great ramen is cheap and two blocks away; great pho is also cheap and a short subway ride away (and open 24 hours). i attempted pho because i wanted the experience of putting it together myself; the cost of admission was worth it for the pleasure and novelty of working with the ingredients. the vegetarian recipes i read followed the same basic formula - anise, ginger, and cinnamon to spike the broth, lots of greens at the end, baked tofu atop the rice noodles - so i grabbed a likely version and went shopping.

our cheapest neighborhood source for spices is whole foods (seriously), so i headed up to columbus circle...and was promptly trampled by four hundred wandering yuppies with gigantic strollers full of angry toddlers. both yuppies and toddlers can be fine on their own (i kind of always dislike strollers, i confess), but combined on a sunday in a foofy grocery store, yeow! one couple decided that they wanted to have a look at the asian noodles but didn't want to communicate with me, so they just snuck up and pinned me against the pasta display with their maclaren. i was so weirded out by being body-checked by a family that i accidentally grabbed a non-vegetarian bottle of sriracha (the huy fong rooster bottles are fine, but whole foods didn't carry them - nor did food emporium, surprisingly). bah.

$45 grocery bag in tow, i headed back home and got cooking. after a lovely hour of chopping and simmering, i ducked into our cupboard to grab a large strainer, which somehow dislodged the heart-shaped stoneware le creuset casserole we got as a wedding present. have you ever picked up a big le creuset piece, admired its heft, and wondered what would happen if you dropped it? answer: if it lands on your bare foot, it pretty much breaks your toe.* the lid broke into three pieces, too, so our covered casserole is now a gratin dish (it's been discontinued, so we can't get another one). i am pretty good with pain, but this was something special: i had to breathe deeply for a few minutes to calm my roiling stomach. this was a bit distracting for joe, so when he took over the large strainer, he poured hot broth down the front of our stove and all over his bare feet. you guys, pho wanted us dead.

and you know what? after all that, it was gross. i followed that recipe with surgical precision, and the resulting broth was bitter, medicinal, and not at all pho-tastic (though it smelled plausible). we poured the leftovers straight down the drain and took the trash out immediately - i wanted the whole thing to be over as soon as possible. never in my life have i met a dish so violently opposed to its own preparation.

all of that said, i'm not sorry i gave it a try: it was a fun process (when we weren't being attacked or injured), and i now know without a shadow of a doubt that i should leave pho to the pros. that, internets, is worth something.

*george: "if you almost broke your toe while making pho, you're clearly doing something right. there's a high degree of technical difficulty on the dismount."


Rachel (heart of light) said...

Well, it looks good. And you've sacrificed yourself for the good of others - I will stick with my favorite pho place and not attempt it on my own. Who knows what secret ingredients/techniques they probably have?

wabes said...

oh, jesus - my heartfelt condolences to both of your sets of feet, and to your now lid-less pan.

with that much trouble, the soup should at least double as an astringent or facemask or something when it's not being eaten.

lauren said...

word, rachel. i think pho's cheap, tasty magic is equal parts volume and wily old pro tricks.

@wabes: i know, right? fishing the baked tofu out of our bowls was an uninspired salvage. at least we didn't set anything on fire (as in the San Francisco Fondue + Zippo Fuel Incident of '01).

jen said...

i have several thoughts for you:

+ dude. the fact that YOUR FOOT managed to break a le creuset dish into three pieces means that you must have toes of steel. damn, girl!

+ given that the pho attacked your feet by putting them IN a casserole dish, and attacked joe's feet by trying to boil them, it sort of makes me think that the pho wanted to COOK and EAT your feet. which, for a vegetarian soup, is pretty evil. it's very hansel and gretel. did the pho suggest that you fatten up and then climb inside the oven or anything?

+ now that i know that vegetarian pho is available in new york, i think i'll just wait till i come visit you next instead of attempting what is a clearly dangerous recipe. (chicago's cuisine is just not that progressive - sustainably raised pho? asian fusion pho? maybe. but veggie? i think highly unlikely).

+ i am suddenly totally nostalgic for san francisco fondue nights. in your tuscan-farm-house-yellow living room, windows open to the fog, drinking those awful but awesome diet 7-up and rosé spritzers. hmmm...san francisco is so much nicer under the veil of nostalgia. i almost forget just how shitty the parking was.