I was inspired by my visit to Ulsan's World Music Festival this past weekend (which I'll post about real soon) where I ate delicious cha gio (fried Vietnamese spring rolls) with scrumptious nuoc cham (dipping sauce) prepared and served by real live Vietnamese women. So, when I noticed a pho shop last night I decided to go in and give 'er a try. Truth be told, this is my first venture trying pho, but I have read a lot about it over at Mmmm-yoso. Kirk sho' knows his pho.
Pho Bay is actually the only Vietnamese restaurant in Ulsan, so it's not like there will be a series of comparisons of pho available round these here parts. I was really looking forward to trying it out. So I ordered some cha gio and what I suppose is plain old pho bò (beef: flank steak to be precise.) I apologize for the pho-to quality. I was afraid to use my flash as ours was the only table in the place and I feared the staff would react like leprechauns worried I was trying to steal their pot 'o gold,...and, like, open my own pho-restaurant next door. Anyhow, here's what I got:
Two little rolls, halved, for ₩3,000. (Please don't make me work out the exchange - it'll make me cry. The South Korean currency is going down the toilet.) The spring rolls were alright, but that dipping sauce is most definitely NOT nuoc cham. It's the same soy/vinegar concoction that's served with mandu (dumplings) here. Not so deliciou-so, know what I mean Kirk?
Here's my pho:
Um, yah. ₩8,000.
Wiki describes the broth as "generally made by simmering beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices, taking several hours to prepare. Seasonings include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, and sometimes black cardamom pods."
But here,....not so much.
What the broth did taste like was slightly salty brown water. The six bits of thinly sliced beef (which seem to be hiding in the above photo) had a rainbow hue and were dry and chewy. The noodles were,...well,...blah. I've had rice noodles before, but I think I really need to try the fresh version. These were surely dried noodles and they were really just "meh."
I'm almost afraid to show you the plate of garnishes. I think Kirk might flip out.
Alright, I'll show you.
(Look away, Kirk. Look awaaaayyyyyy!)
Pile of bean sprouts, mound of sliced onion, little bowl of sliced burn-your-face-off gochu, and ubiquitous danmuji. Man, I hate danmuji. Oh, and there's a wee 1/16th of a lemon tucked on the side there. Mmmm, sour.
Oh. Here's the pho mixed up a bit before I threw in some bean sprouts.
There was nary a Vietnamese saram in the joint, although maybe they were hiding one in the kitchen. I doubt it, because I don't think anyone from Vietnam would produce this soup and dare to call it pho.
The good news is that it's very very likely that my second time trying this dish is going to be much better than the first. Also, I'm sure it's difficult to get the ingredients needed to make a proper bowl of this soup, but that's sure to change as Koreans continue to expand their interest in global cuisine. Seriously, six years ago it was hard to find a hunk of cheese or chocolate in this country, so the times - they are indeed a'changing.