NEW ORLEANS - A festival is kicking off this weekend celebrating a specialty that's becoming quite the food phenomenon throughout New Orleans and many parts of the country. The “dish” is actually served in a bowl. It's called pho.
You'll get some debate about how to pronounce it, but there's not a lot of argument about its appeal. There are many varieties. We visited three pho joints in the metro area to see what’s being served.
"We have it with beef medium rare, the brisket fat, there's some tendon in there," said Karl Tackacs, owner of Pho Tau Bay.
"This is some soy cooked pork belly," said Michael Gulotta, chef at MoPho.
"I’m doing the meatballs today," said Giang Pham, as she prepared to dive into a bowl of the soup.
"I got the sliced steak pho," said Leonard Marchand.
The beef noodle soup is a traditional Vietnamese specialty, but it's winning over foodies here in New Orleans.
"Now they’re learning it from the Vietnamese, from my children, from friends from person to person and they say, oh pho that's good," said Yen Vu, owner of Pho Bang.
Before we dive into what makes a good pho, we're going to get some clarification on how to actually pronounce it.
“Some people say "fo", and the Vietnamese say pho like “fuh,” said Takacs.
"Fuh”, that's what I’ve been taught to call pho," said pho lover Ernest
“The right way “fuh”, because of the heavy accent from the French,” said Yen Vu.
Yen Vu is a first generation Vietnamese immigrant. His family owns Pho Bang in New Orleans East and several other restaurants by the same name located in Jefferson Parish. Vu says it's all about the broth. His secret lies in how he cooks with beef bones.
"We've been making the pho for 29 years. We got a lot of experience," said Vu.
On the Westbank in Gretna, Karl Takacs has a lot of experience too.
“We start off with some bones, we do some put some anise in there, we put some ginger, and we have some beef scraps that we use to kind of simmer and create that rich nice bold flavor," said Takacs.
Takacs owns Pho Tau Bay, a family run business started by his parents who met during the Vietnam War. For 32 years they've been boiling, slicing and scooping all the elements of pho. Some of the best ingredients though, may be invisible.
"I think people find a hot bowl of soup soothing for the soul if you will. It's corny to say but you know everybody asks me what's your secret ingredient in making your pho and it's actually the time you put into it. It's really the love of doing it. I enjoy what I do,” said Takacs.
When you enjoy a bowl of pho, you’ll be served a plate, basket or bowl of “sides”. Those sides usually consist of basil, jalapeño peppers, lime and bean sprouts. They are optional but often compliment the salty flavors of the beef stock. Slurping is acceptable etiquette.
Thousands of Vietnamese came to Southeast Louisiana after the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and of course they brought with them their cuisine. For decades most of the Vietnamese restaurants in the Metro area were located in New Orleans East and on the Westbank, but those restaurants are starting to penetrate other parts of New Orleans.
In Mid-City, MoPho is part of the new wave of Vietnamese-inspired dining. Chef Michael Gulotta is taking his years of experience in the kitchens of legends like John Besh and fusing it with his years of growing up eating Vietnamese food. Gulotta says food from New Orleans and Vietnam has parallels.
"Both New Orleans and Vietnam having been French colonies at one time, both have a great appreciation for baked goods and great charcuterie and great brackish water seafood. All those things go together so well and so why not see where that can go," said Gulotta.
One of Gulotta's interpretations of pho includes pork belly, homemade head cheese and grilled mustard greens.
"Then right as it goes out to the table we hit it with the broth and it just melts that head cheese. At first people didn't know what to make of what we were doing. We just wanted people to let their guard down and just have fun. It's not traditional here and it doesn't always have to be," said Gulotta.
"I always refer to pho kind of being like gumbo. Everybody's grandmother or mother makes it different," said Takacs.
Now that you got the 411 on pho just remember to add in some of the sides and don't be too self conscious when you slurp.
The Pho Festival Schedule:
Saturday-June 21 & Sunday- June 22, 2014
from 10am to 10pm
Saint Agnes Parish
6851 8th St.
Marrero, LA 70072
At the intersection of Westwood Drive & 8th Street