Immigration to OKC helped turn the city into a pho lovers' paradise 

Well done brisket in noodle soup at Pho Lien Hoa.  mh
  • Well done brisket in noodle soup at Pho Lien Hoa. mh

Technically, ph? is a breakfast food.

Ph? or pho (sounds like “fuh,” not “foe”) is Vietnam’s national dish, a soup of deeply spiced beef broth filled with long, slender rice noodles and tender cuts of beef.

In Vietnam, it’s eaten in streetside stalls on the way to work and many of the best shops are sold out by 9 a.m.

Thankfully, the same is not true in Oklahoma City, where ph? restaurants abound as lunch and dinner destinations. As the year progresses, this steaming-hot Vietnamese delight only gets more popular with customers.

The dish found its way to Oklahoma after the fall of Saigon in 1975, when hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled the country after the Vietnam War. The U.S. government took in many of the refugees, housing some at Fort Chaffee, just outside Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The refugees were allowed to leave when they found a sponsor, and many in Oklahoma City were willing to help.

That was the first wave, and more arrived in the decades since, joining family members who established businesses and Oklahoma City’s thriving Asian District community.

Ngoc “Anna” Dinh, whose in-laws own Pho Lien Hoa, 901 NW 23rd St., said ph? is an integral part of the Vietnamese experience.

It is one of the city’s most popular ph? eateries, and it continues to gain momentum since opening in October 2000. Dinh said she doesn’t know the exact number of bowls of soup served there each day, but she guesses it’s about 500.

“That’s actually something I’d like to find out,” she said.

Duy Tran cooks everything from scratch in the kitchen at Pho Cuong.  mh
  • Duy Tran cooks everything from scratch in the kitchen at Pho Cuong. mh

Recipes abound

There’s no set recipe for ph?, or at least there are so many it’s hard to say what absolutely has to be in it. One thing traditional broths have in common is beef bones, Dinh said.

“We fill the whole pot full of them,” she said. “You have to cook the bones all over. Cook them for hours, and then you start seasoning.”

Employees arrive at Pho Lien Hoa at 8 a.m. to start cooking. But they’re not making the soup customers eat today — they’re working on tomorrow’s broth.

The long, slow process extracts substantial beef flavor from the bones as well as collagen, which gives the broth an almost creamy texture.

Dinh said Pho Lien Hoa’s recipe is fairly simple.

It includes grilled onions, ginger, cinnamon and star anise, giving the broth a warm spice profile that’s different from American beef soups. The broth is skimmed as impurities rise to the surface to keep it looking and tasting clean.

While the broth is one of ph?’s most defining characteristics, each diner gets to customize the bowl by choosing which cuts of beef go in the soup.

Pho-B-and-B-Pho-17mh.jpg

Vocabulary lesson

Some ph? regulars have their orders down to a number at their favorite restaurant, but knowing the lingo will help diners navigate menus.

Pho ??c bi?t means “special ph?,” and it includes a combination of cuts of th?t (meat). At Pho Thai Nguyen, 3221 N. Classen Blvd., a bowl of pho ??c bi?t is filled with beef tenderloin, brisket, flank steak, tendon, tripe and beef meatballs.

For cuisine newcomers, a good bet is ph? tái, which is broth, noodles and rare steak, or ph? chín, or lean brisket. The heat of the broth, which comes to the table still steaming, cooks the meat.

Other common beef cuts are fatty brisket (g?u), fatty flank (n?m), tendon (gân) and tripe (sách).

Even if a specific combination isn’t listed on the menu, restaurants are very accommodating about combining the ingredients customers ask for, because the meats are added to the dish just before it’s delivered to the table.

Though Pho Lien Hoa specializes in ph?, other popular Vietnamese have expanded menus to include a greater selection of traditional dishes.

Lee’s Sandwiches, 3300 N. Classen Blvd., is a franchise mostly known for Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches, but the Oklahoma City location also offers daily ph? specials.

The menu at Pho Cuong, 3106 N. Classen Blvd., incorporates more variety with (egg noodles), cháo (rice porridge) and h? ti?u (pork noodle soup), among others. Housed in an old green-blue house, Pho Cuong breaks its ph? menu down into dishes for novices, intermediates and experts.

Vietnamese eateries are common throughout Asian District, and in recent years, such venues have expanded farther into the metro. Edmond is home to Pho Bulous Noodle & Grill, 3409 S. Broadway Suite 700, and Pho Ben Restaurant, 304 S. Kelly Ave.

Moore has Ph? Lan Asian Bistro, 711 SW 19th St. Suite 102, and Norman is where to find Pho Winner Vietnamese Restaurant, 775 Jenkins Ave.

The growth of ph? venues is proof of the dish’s popularity, Dinh said.

“It’s light, it packs a lot of flavor and it’s easy to eat,” she said. “It’s usually eaten breakfast, but people have it for lunch or dinner or a midnight snack, too. We eat it all day long.”

Print headline: Ph? real, As winter approaches, this traditional Vietnamese soup helps warm up chilly diners.

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