My perfect food day back home in Atlanta starts with a trip to Lee’s Bakery. It’s in a strip mall full of other red signs atop local treasure troves, and if you drive too fast up Buford Highway, you’re sure to pass it.
The second you walk in you’ll be tempted by take-out ready egg rolls, fried to perfection. At the same time you will be rushed to a table by a small Vietnamese man or woman, yelling out orders to “to take a seat!”. One can’t help but notice all the condiments on the table.
I get the same thing every time I go to Lee’s Bakery. A pho tai (rare beef) soup and a small banh mi (pork BBQ sandwich). The idea of two meats in one meal always seems kind of daunting, but rest assured that I’ll always make room. Always.
The second the plate arrives patrons are usually overwhelmed with all the accoutrements for the soup. ‘Am I really supposed to eat all these bean sprouts?’ You might think. Well I certainly think it’s worth a shot. Between palette cleansing sprouts and lively Thai basil, I could eat the toppings and die happy, but the soup calls my name. Remember the sirens in all those mythology stories? Basically that’s the steam coming from the bowl of pho. The soup can be best described as “salty” while the banh mi is straight up layered decadence. I usually alternate between my soup and my crusty, messy sandwich until I can’t anymore. The soup always wins, because noodle soup is supported by what feels like 5 gallons of broth. It’s overwhelming, in a good way, to never run out of broth...
You can’t be pho real?
Oh, I can. It’s that good. This recipe is adapted from a fabulous recipe I’ve been playing with from The Kitchn. You can find it here if you want the real deal with great tips, techniques, and explanations. Below is my version which has got some tweaks, some additions that reminded me of my absolute favorite pho at Lee’s Bakery back home in Atlanta. (Can you tell I love Lee’s Bakery?) Pho is the ultimate comfort, and the noodles aren’t even the star of the show, it’s all about the beef broth baby!
Makes 2 generous servings (lots of broth)
6 c beef broth (not low-sodium)
1 lb sirloin steak or stir fry beef strips
2 pieces (about 2 oz) dried vermicelli noodles
½ small white onion, sliced
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 tsp powdered ginger
½ tsp white pepper
2 whole star anise
Fresh bean sprouts
In a large pot, bring the beef broth, fish sauce, soy sauce, hoisin, garlic, ginger, white pepper, star anise, lime juice, mirin, and sliced onion to a boil on high.
Once boiling, drop the vermicelli noodles into the broth, and cook for one minute or according to packet instructions, using chopsticks to break up the noodles
Drop in the sliced beef and cook for another minute (or more for well-done beef)
Serve in large bowls, topping with fresh mint, basil, scallions, and bean sprouts. Spoon extra broth over the fresh herbs to wilt them down. Msssssss