I've been reading Anthony Bourdain's second autobiographical book, A Cook's Tour, in which he travels all over the world "in search of the perfect meal." In case you're not familiar with the author/TV chef, he wrote Kitchen Confidential, and has had shows on both the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Some of his food experiences make me cringe, while others make me crave very specific dishes. Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, is one of meals I can't get out of my mind since I read about it.
In one of the chapters Tony, that's what we used to call him in my house, and it's how he refers to himself in the book, eats pho for breakfast in a Saigon market. He describes it better than I ever could:
"Is there anything better to eat on this planet than a properly made bowl of pho? I don't know. Precious few things can approach it. It's got it all."
Last night I couldn't wait any longer to have pho again, and went to Vietnam 1, a small restaurant I hadn't tried yet. One of my favorite things about the soup is that it's served with a basket of fresh bean sprouts, basil, lime, and sometimes cilantro. I like to add all of those to the steaming bowl, along with plum sauce and that Sriracha chili sauce that seems to turn up in restaurants of all origins. Pho can have all different cuts of meat in it (among a variety of other items); I chose eye of round and flank last night, and they were delicious and tender. The soup is beyond tasty...it's a wonderful layering of flavors that, as Tony says, is "spicy, hot complex, refined, yet unbelievably simple."
I'm not an expert on Vietnamese food, let alone pho, but it's hard to think of many meals that satisfy a craving the same way. One line from A Cook's Tour echoes my thoughts: "the whole experience is overwhelmingly perfect."