Vietnamese Cuisine Shines In the Summit City
I’ll never forget the first time I experienced Pho (pronounced “fuh,” like fun without the n), a traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, spices, and meat. My husband and I had wandered into Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant located on South Calhoun, and asked the waitress for a recommendation. She directed us to the Pho section of the menu, and it changed our lives—I am not exaggerating.
I had never had anything like it, and I was immediately smitten with the complex flavors, aromas, and textures of the steaming dish. Pho Tai, which has become my favorite version, is simple in appearance, but rich in flavor, and is a cure-all for just about anything that ails you.
“Pho is our comfort food,” says Will Le, owner of Banh Mi Barista, a Vietnamese sandwich shop that opened in October 2012 on Coldwater Road in Fort Wayne. In addition to the bánh mì, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with a baguette, a remnant of the French influence during the Colonial period, the restaurant serves Pho several days a week.
“Each region of Vietnam prepares it differently based on what is available and the influences from bordering countries. It’s so diverse that each household has its own recipe,” Le explains.
The same holds true for the various Vietnamese restaurants that have popped up in Fort Wayne over the past several years. If you want to experience Pho, you have several choices—Saigon Restaurant on South Calhoun, Kim Vu Vietnamese Cuisine on Dupont, Banh Mi Barista on Coldwater, and West Coast Grill on South Calhoun, which opened just a few weeks ago—and each has its own unique approach to Pho.
In general, Vietnamese food is steeped in tradition and the care by which it is prepared shines through in every dish. Because the country experienced long phases of war and conflict, the majority of its people live in poverty, and therefore, they use inexpensive ingredients, using herbs and vegetables that are easily grown and readily available.
But don’t mistake inexpensive for bland, low quality, or unhealthful. In fact, the opposite is true. Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world because of its minimal use of oils and innovative preparation of high quality fresh herbs, spices, vegetables, and meats.
I’ve been enjoying Pho for years now, and I wanted to understand the magic behind it. Will Le of Banh Mi Barista walked me through his process.
“The secret is in the broth,” he explains. “You must start with a good beef bone and fresh spices. I use shallot and ginger root that I’ve burned on the grill to bring out the aromas.”
He scrapes up the burned remnants and adds them to the boiling water. When it starts steaming, he adds the beef bones, along with a white onion and daikon to absorb color, and lets it cook for three hours. Halfway through, he adds star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds, all of which have been stir-fried in a dry skillet to “wake up the spices,” he says. Then he adds salt, sugar, and fish sauce to taste.
When the broth is done cooking, he adds noodles, green onion, and red onion, and serves the Pho with fresh veggies on the side: bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime. Right before the Pho is served, he adds thinly sliced beef.
Part of the fun of eating Pho is in the preparation once it reaches the table. It usually comes in a large steaming bowl with a plate of fresh veggies on the side. I add my fresh veggies before each bite to ensure they keep their crunch, but some people add them all at once. Usually, a rainbow of sauces line the table, and depending on your preference, you can make it as spicy as you want by adding Sriracha or hot red chilies. My typical ritual includes adding a splash of soy sauce and a generous squirt of Sriracha.
Interested in appeasing your culinary curiosity? Visit one of the Vietnamese restaurants in town and experience Pho.
2006 S. Calhoun Street
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Banh Mi Barista
5320 Coldwater Road
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Kim Vu Vietnamese Cuisin
433 E. Dupont Road
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
West Coast Grill
2310 S. Calhoun Street
Fort Wayne, IN 46807
Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.