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Lunch: Pho 97

August 22, 2006

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Holy moly. I am so full. Sigh, it seems like that’s how I always start my posts. But it’s the truth! We took at family friend out for lunch at Pho 97 today. Instead of ordering individual dishes, we did it family style. This tends to be more fun as you get to taste everything but the problem is (for me at least) is that I end up eating far more than I ever intended. I cannot stand wasted food. It drives me crazy. Absolutely crazy! I can stop eating if I set aside what I will not eat in the beginning. But that doesn’t happen often. I am like the human shovel bucket. I thank someone or something everyday for a fast metabolism.

We ordered a broad range of dishes as our guest has not gone past the realm of Pho and Spring Rolls in terms of Vietnamese foods. First up was the duck and bamboo noodle soup. The duck is served separate from the noodle soup, like a salad. Duck is one of my favorite meats and that’s probably because it is quite fatty and so favorable. Here it is sliced cold and surrounds a mound of shredded cabbage, onions and minced ginger and green onions. We picked off the duck and pour some nuoc nam over the cabbage before mixing it all together. It’s tastes light, crunchy and carefree – like a good summer day!

Here’s the soup that accompanies the noodle. The broth is very simple and basic, and though it’s supposed to be duck broth, I could hardly taste any difference from their chicken broth. On top are chunks of pigs blood and pieces of bamboo shoot. I don’t crave pigs blood, but I’ll never refuse a piece or two. I think it’s the texture that I find intriguing. Like soft, salty jello. Or even lighter than jello, it just falls apart with one bite, nothing like human blood of course, if that’s what you’re imagining. Just make sure to try it for yourself. At least once! It never hurt :)

The spring rolls were especially good. I’ve eaten too many of the “local kind” spring rolls recently, which are akin to the kind you receive with your delivery of greasy Chinese takeout in nyc. Heavy, oily skin with a fatty filling. Even worse cold. But the skin here was crisp, light and hot. Wrapped tightly around shrimp, pork and vermicelli, I ate quite a bit from this plate. Take a piece of lettuce, a bit of noodles, bean sprouts and basil, put the spring roll in the center and roll it up. Mmmm, indeed!

The sugarcane shrimp is eaten in the same manner, only they serve it with dried rice paper which forms the base for wrapping. Replace the thicker spring roll noodles are very thin noodles steamed together, forming layers of thin squares. Shrimp paste is wrapped around the sugarcane then grilled. I suppose the sugarcane is to impart some of its sweetness into the shrimp…but sweet or not, it’s good to eat. The shrimp is chewy, like fish cake or beef balls but so much better because of the smoky char.

And the ever popular pho. The veggies were clean and fresh, like how they ought to be. This restaurant has high turnover, so no worries about freshness here.

I can think of many place in town that serves better pho, but not one that offers such a wide range of Vietnamese dishes. The broth was a bit salty and they didn’t serve the beef rare, on the side as I would have liked, but other than that it was your standard, hearty bowl of pho.

This dish is a good choice for the indecisive! It vaguely reminds me of a local plate lunch, only much healthier. The rice is my very favorite part of the dish, broken up jasmine rice. Like couscous, only with more bite and substance. I supposed the increased surface area just makes it more efficient in soaking up nuoc nam. The yellow square is…the best. Ever! I love meatloaf and I love the Vietnamese take on it even more. Yes, just like meatloaf, only leaner and with vermicelli used in place of bread crumbs. It has a bit of bounce and the light flavors pair well with the rice. At the top are slices of lemongrass barbequed pork chops. I’m loyal to my grandma’s version, so I must say these weren’t nearly as good as hers :). On the left is a mix of shredded pork skin, grilled pork and other wonderful meaty delicacies tossed in roasted rice powder. I apologize if that doesn’t shed much light, but if you come to Hawaii I’ll be sure to take you here! It also is to be mixed with the rice and a spoonful of nuoc nam. Nuoc nam is like the magical Vietnamese condiment. It flavor and makes everything all the more delicious. Sounds quite dangerous, no?

We all ended with a nice cup of cafe phe su, the Vietnamese drip coffee. At the bottom of the cup is a good serving of sweetened condensed milk. Once all the coffee (very strong!) has dripped down, just give the coffee a swirl to mix in the milk. I prefer it much over American coffee as I find the flavor more hearty and robust. Like coffee…maxxed out. lol. I hope that gives a vague idea. I like lots of milk, till it’s not so much coffee but more of a dessert whereas dad likes it without milk. Oh so bitter. Shudder. One day I’ll learn to love bitter coffee. But while I’m young, let’s keep it sweet.

Pho 97
1120 Maunakea Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 538-0708



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