Monday, February 22, 2010

Pho Hoa's Roast Pork and Wonton Egg Noodle Soup

Brian is the real adventurer. A man with a complete lack of culinary hesitance and a bottomless pit for a stomach, my friend from White Plains inspires me on a regular basis.

Brian and I have had lunch together through a million combinations of circumstances. When we met during our semester abroad in Tokyo, there was lunch, and much awe-inspired conversation. When we returned home, finished college, and both got jobs downtown, there was lunch and bitching about coworkers and bosses. When first one, then the other lost those jobs, there was bitching about unemployment. And as we piece our respective careers back together, Brian, my lunchtime confidant, is on the phone; "Tryin' to get some noodles maaaaan!?"

The bulk of our meals together involved pho. My regularity mirrored that of a senior citizen and his early bird special, as did Brian's until he began navigating the nether regions of the extensive and typo-fraught Vietnamese menu pages. He uncovered Bun Bo Hue, a hot and sour beef noodle soup that would be mainstream viable were there a mind thinking to angle it. Later, Brian went for an egg noodle, roast pork, and wonton dish that won him over. Though his fickle ordering face indicates that this new dish hasn't knocked pho off the top of the list as yet, it had noodles, pork, and Brian's seal of approval. I had to try it.

At Pho Hoa with Joey and Hassan, I went for it. Egg noodles have a very different texture from the rice noodles I swear by. They are slightly more rigid, which causes them to hold their curls even after being boiled. They separate from each other with a bit more ease, making it easier to pile your spoon Thai style. I recall a phase during my childhood in Thailand in which I got egg noodles from my school's cafeteria, but since then I tend to choose the rice noodles.

Another difference is that Chinese style noodle soups are complemented by soy sauce and red vinegar, as opposed to the fish sauce/lime combination. This sends the noodle experience into a new direction, the contrast between salty and sour being far sharper in the soy/vinegar combo. There's something simpler and less delicate about this Chinese variation.

These noodles contained something ever present in Thai noodle soups that I always missed in Vietnamese versions. Fried garlic should never be underestimated, even in its overly dry prepackaged form. When making Thai kuay teow at home, I prefer to fry the garlic myself, which is slightly time consuming but yields a garlic infused oil that cannot be substituted for. It is my favorite preparation of one of the most delightful things in the world, garlic.

There is one more item of note that was in play in the bowl before me. Chinese broccoli, or gailan, stalks are amazing in noodles when peeled and boiled properly. This is something else that is in a lot of Thai and Chinese noodle soups, but rarely in a Vietnamese one. By the way, if you ever want to buy this stuff from the Asian market to cook at home, be advised that it has several dopplegangers that don't taste quite as wonderful.

It looked good, steaming there in front of me. The clear yellowish broth was colored in by the Sriracha, red vinegar, and soy sauce. The wontons were making their presence quite apparent while I had to dig a little to find the bits of pork. Buried beneath the noodles, I found a stash of cubes. Pink on the edges, but for the most part gray, these bits of roast pork looked absolutely repulsive. I have come to notice that roast pork often retains its pinkness, even after thorough cooking, and this was an example for the books. The simultaneous appearance gray and pink raise some ambiguity as to whether the meat is severely overcooked or dangerously undercooked. Despite this, a spoonful or yellow noodles and gailan topped with one of these chunks was delicious. The meat was salty and soft, falling in nicely between the gailan's slight crunchiness and the gentle stiffness of the egg noodles. The wontons were a nice familiar addition, though I would have traded them for more actual meat.

While I'm likely to love any culture's entry to the world of noodle soups, quite likely my favorite type of food, nothing will ever compare to the rendition I associate with home, warmth, comfort, and the utmost care: my mom's Thai kuay teow with homemade ground chicken meatballs (chicken, fishsauce, and pepper), peeled gailan stems, and home fried garlic. Absolutely nothing.

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