Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Pho vs Pho Mi 108 vs Chinatown Pho - May 21st

Update: June 25th, 2011
Pho Mi 108 has closed. A new restaurant, Koi Asia, took over. We dropped by for a visit and the pho tasted the same.

If you've been following the blog, you'd know that my favourite pho (pronounced f-uh, not foe... this funny video explains it) joint, in Ottawa, is Pho Mi 108 in Bells Corners. For those who don't know why, let me explain:

Once in a while, I crave the sweet pho soups of most of the pho places in Ottawa (and I'm specifically talking about Chinatown, cause we go there most of the time). But two years ago, I went pho crazy. I seriously had to have pho at least twice a month, and it lasted for a good six months. My parents kept telling me that homemade pho is much better than eating it at a restaurant. I didn't agree since we never made a consistant tasting pho broth at home.

After I went through that phase, I started to make pho at home more often - Lucy, Richard and Andrew can vouch for me (as they're now sick of pho). Pot after pot, I tried to solidify my "recipe". I now have the foundations of a good pho broth and tweak little things, here and there, with every pot I make. When you taste my pho broth, you'll notice that the star anise and clove are the stars, with the beef bones and aromatic veggies (carrots and onions) acting as support. You'll also notice that I don't use MSG, as the family hasn't touched it in a couple of years.
If you take Chinatown's pho broth and mix it equally with my pho broth, you'd get something like Pho Mi 108's pho broth. That's why I keep going back to the place.

After coming back home from living at my aunt's house for the school year, I desperately needed to make pho, as I craved it so much throughout the year. (Pho in Toronto's Chinatown is no different than Ottawa's - in terms of their pho broth. It's a sweet broth with a hint of cloves, star anise and cinnamon.)

I invited some friends over for pho one night. Based on my experience with making pho, it's my personal opinion that you can't make a decent tasting pho broth (from scratch) in under 8 hours. So when my pho was to be served the next night, I started to prepare the broth.

To prepare the bones, you have to throw them in boiling water for a good 5 minutes to allow most of the blood to drain out of the bones and coagulate. After the 5 minutes, I rinse the bones and then throw them into a industrial stock pot that we have. The pot of murky water is then thrown out. The amount of water I use on the pho broth depends on how many people will be eating and how many bones we have in our fridge/freezer.

Star anise and cloves were then thrown into the huge stock pot with the bones along with honey dates. To make it easier to take them out afterwards, I use one of those metal tea balls.

Onions and ginger pieces were browned and the tossed into the stock pot, along with peeled and quartered carrots.

Finally, salt and rock sugar were combined with the stock. Rock sugar can be found in your local Asian supermarket. In terms of the flavour, it's similar to comparing granulated sugar with honey. Both are sweet, but the granulated sugar is too sharp. There's no flavour to the sugar to round out the sweetness. This is why I prefer to use rock sugar.

The soup was brought up to a boil and then turned off for the night, as I went to bed. The soup was then brought up to a boil again when I got up the next morning. After the soup boiled for two minutes (in the morning), I cranked the heat down to a little simmer.

Low heat is important for a clear soup broth. I don't cover the pot at this point, as I want the soup and it's flavours to condense. After 5 hours, I generally add more water. The soup is then turned up a bit until dinner time. I usually taste the pho broth an hour or so before it is served and then throw in a small piece of a cinnamon bark into the tea ball. I adjust the soup to the desired taste and then let the free-for-all begin.

There aren't any pictures of a bowl of pho that we ate, cause we were all too hungry. You all know what a bowl of pho looks like anyway. If you don't, then just keep reading below.

Pho Mi 108 - June 19th
It was a Friday afternoon. Mom was working late, Lucy was getting ready to leave for her friend's wedding, and Richard was out with his frends. That left Andrew and I to make a late lunch or early dinner. We were feeling lazy that day and I was craving pho, so I suggested that we go out for pho.

We started with the greasy spring rolls. The thing about their spring rolls is that they double wrap theirs. It's a bad thing because that means that they have to have the oil and a lower temperature or else the outside will be burnt while the filling isn't cooked/hot. By lowering the temperature of the oil, the spring roll wrappers absorb more oil. I don't recommend you get this, even though I keep thinking that the next time I go, it might not be soggy.

My brother ordered the bun with BBQ pork, shredded pork and spring rolls.

I had a bowl of well done beef with slices of medium done beef (although the meat is always fully cooked by the time it arrives).

Here's a picture of a refreshingly cold pot of tea.

To sum up everything, my pho tastes better than both Pho Mi 108 and pho found in Chinatown, while Pho Mi 108 is better than all the pho found in Chinatown. That's just my opinion.


3825 Richmond Rd
Ottawa, ON

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