Hot Pot vs. Pho
With the weather growing colder, soup season has started! This begs the question: how is pho (pronounced FUH) related to a dish known as hot pot? Pho is something that I've eaten several times. Here in Portland, Oregon there is a HUGE Vietnamese community and MANY restaurants serving the amazing soup known as pho. Hot pot is something I've only heard of and am interested in learning more. So let's dive in to a delicious bowl of soup!
According to Phoandhotpot.com, "Hot pot also known as lau in Vietnamese is one of the most common dish in Vietnam. A soup base simmers over a gas stove or an electric stove where diners can choose a variety of meats, vegetables, and noodles to dip and cook in their broth."
So in a way, is this related to the French dish fondue? Both involve dipping delicious items. Vietnamese food does have some French influence, due to the colonization of Vietnam by France in the 19th century. For more information on this subject, please visit EpicureanCulture.com.
Back to our quest at hand. Wikipedia defines Pho as a 'soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, herbs, and meat (usually beef or chicken).' Their description of Hot Pot is a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table used for cooking a variety of ingredients including vegetables, meat, dumplings, and seafood.
Hot Pot has literal meaning, and is more of an interactive experience; similar to eating fondue except that hot pot uses several raw ingredients. Pho is more of a specific dish, which has less variety in its design.
From my experience with pho, it is practically a magical encounter with food. After choosing which cut of meat or protein you would like in your soup (chicken or beef, meatballs, tripe, steak, sometimes seafood or offal), a few minutes later a large steaming bowl is placed in front of you. It contains noodles, your protein of choice, and a symphony of amazing fragrances from the seasoning of the broth. There is also a plate full of garnishes: bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno, Thai basil, and lime wedges.
Usually there is a variety of sauces at the table too. For take-out orders, a small sample of hoisin and sriracha are offered. These are the interactive part of the pho experience, which encourage the diner to create their personalized umami experience. Each of the optional ingredients is there to provide texture and depth of flavor. By adding these ingredients the soup is enhanced into a sweet/sour/spicy/salty/crunchy and overall comforting meal. The warm spices in the broth, usually star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and clove mix with the perfume of the herbs to wake up your senses. The warmth of the broth, fun of the noodles, and indulgence of the protein are almost like medicine for your spirit. It is the PERFECT dish for a damp and chilly day; especially if you're feeling under the weather. For those of you who have not yet had pho, I would suggest you do so as soon as possible. Also, get the small bowl because it is still very large.