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Somewhat Hoarble

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Even though I recently talked about my visit to a Vietnamese eatery to sample some pho (See Phonomenal), today I will be talking about my dining experience at Pho Hoa located in Itaewon on Itaewon-Ro heading straight out of exit 2 for about 10 minutes.  Here is their website.

While my friends Ravi and Carolyn were in town, we were running all about Seoul seeing the sights, but with all of that traveling we managed to work up a serious appetite.  Ravi wanted to try this Korean vegetarian place that consisted of traditional side dishes served to you in a tapas style meal.  However, when we got there, there was a wait for a table since it was a very small establishment, so we decided to walk back up the street to find another place to eat.  We eventually settled on Pho Hoa since it was close by.  All I knew is that I wasn’t going to eat pho again, so I looked over their rice dishes.  During my search, I did notice that the pho bowls they offered were more authentic than Pho Mein’s they provided you with cilantro, jalapenos, bean sprouts etc.  I settled on the pork rice in the end (10,000 Won) along with a Saigon beer (4,000 Won).

When both of them came out, I was more interested in the beer since it looked more intriguing.

Charlie don't drink good beer

Charlie don’t drink good beer

However, I didn’t have my hopes up since Asia really isn’t known for their quality brews.  I was correct when I found out I was sipping on a pale lager that had a very small head and really devoid of any flavor.  As for my food, I found it as unspectacular since I recognized the bulgogi (which is beef, not pork) residing next to the mound of white rice. IMG_1914 At least the egg roll was Vietnamese, and it was delicious with its golden, flaky wrapping and fresh veggie innards.  One of the main reasons why I disliked this meal is because it was so bland and the rice was not fully cooked.  Thankfully, after a couple generous dollops of Sriracha sauce, I ate every spicy spoonful.  The meat was a bit better than average since it had an interesting sweet aftertaste, but some pieces were a bit on the dry side.  I could tell this was a plate specifically designed with Korean audiences in mind due to the lack of severely spicy elements that are more common to Southeast Asian cuisine.  I’m sure if I got one of their pho bowls, I would have been more satisfied.  Overall, it was an average meal that could have been better if I went with one of the safer options like pho.

Not Phonomenal

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a partially failed food mission that ended up turning out alright in the end.  At first, I was planning on trying Taco Cielo in the south of Incheon, but for some reason, they were closed on a Saturday afternoon (because you totally wouldn’t make any money then).  Not to be deterred, I knew that O’Malley’s Irish Pub was right next door, and I wouldn’t have minded sinking my choppers into a juicy burger or some other form of deep-fried bar food.  Unfortunately, their sign said that they didn’t open until 6 pm.  Talk about being on a roll.  I ended up going to a Vietnamese restaurant I saw during my walk to Taco Cielo called Pho Mein.  It’s located across the street from the main Shinsegae Department Store in Incheon.  Here is their website (sorry, it’s only in Korean) http://phomein.com/Main/.IMG_0449

Even though I suffered some initial setbacks, this gourmand was gunning to try Korea’s take on a Vietnamese classic dish, and I was pleased when I first walked through the door.  Although it didn’t possess the Southeast Asian hustle and bustle charms of Tank Noodle like back home in Chicago’s Argyle neighborhood, a.k.a. Little Saigon, (See:  “Getting Tanked“) its slick, modern decor made for a very comforting dining experience.IMG_0452  I decided to order a large bowl of the large spicy pho (12,000 Won).  I was kind of curious to see if the Koreans were actually going to make it spicy or just Kimchi spicy which is quite mild when it comes to bringing the heat.  Not only do they serve pho, but they also have fried rice dishes and meat dishes like fried cashew chicken.  While I was waiting, I saw that they had a bottle of hoisin sauce and another bottle of red chili sauce along with chopsticks, spoons, and napkins.  They also provided me with a complimentary carafe of cold green tea which was quite refreshing during this increasingly humid Korean summer.   My giant bowl of soup quickly came out to my table in probably 10 minutes.  I could then tell that this very flavorful dish was subdued for Korean tastes aside from the spice level.

Uhh, what the phok?

Uhh, what the phok?

 That was the first surprise as the devilishly red beef broth provided me with a good burn that I have been missing in Korea for so long now.  The thin and long rice noodles were expertly made al dente, and the thin slices of beef melted in my mouth.  The more subdued parts of the meal were exemplified in the garnishes that were provided with my bowl of pho.  I was supplied with yellow pickled radish pieces, sweet pickled onions, and raw bean sprouts instead of the more fanciful flavors of cilantro, lime, and jalapenos.  The lack of traditional garnishes reflected the Korean adaptation of the Vietnamese classic for local palates to my great displeasure.  Plus, compared to Tank Noodle’s version of pho, there was no tripe or sweet basil floating in the broth which definitely took away a certain exotic element from the food.

Overall, I was pleased with the amount of food that I got for the price, and it was a solid meal.  However, the fact that it was Koreanized took away from its potential to be a truly great dish.  So if you’re looking to try a little bit of Vietnam in Korea, I’d recommend Pho Mein for its excellent service, lovely surroundings, and competently made food.IMG_0450

I Got Tanked in Uptown

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Welcome to another chapter in the food saga that is Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a restaurant that is a bit off the beaten path but is well-known to those who enjoy a traditional Vietnamese treat.  The establishment in question is called Pho Xe Tang or its English name “Tank Noodles” in Uptown right off the Argyle El stop at 4953 N Broadway Chicago, IL 60640.  This place is an institution within the area known as little Saigon, and I can definitely see why after trying their signature dish: Phở.

H.Q. for amazing Vietnamese food

Now some people who are reading this blog right now are scratching their heads trying to make heads or tails of the word I just wrote above, and no, I did not create a new letter in the English alphabet.  For my own typing sanity, I’ll write it in English, Pho, instead of its Vietnamese counterpart above.  Plus, I would like to note that this dish is pronounced “Fuh” not “Foh” with a long “o”.  I made the same mistake when I first saw it, but I was quickly corrected by my friend who had visited Tank Noodle before.  Pronunciation aside, what exactly is Pho?

Pho is a broth dish that could be considered a veritable melting pot of indigenous Vietnamese, French, and Chinese influences to create one great meal.  The soup begins with a simple beef or chicken broth that contains various types of meat depending on your preferences.  Then there are garnishes that the diner can add to the soup as they go along such as cilantro, onion, lime, bean sprouts, Sriracha sauce, Asian basil, and bean sprouts.  Many chefs recommend adding the ingredients gradually to the soup to enhance the flavor profile, but I personally think that it really doesn’t make much of a difference since the ingredients are all so fresh and tasty to begin with.

When I went to Tank Noodle, I got the beef Pho (phở bò) with tripe added to the mixture just to be adventurous.  If you aren’t a fan of tripe, you can be even crazier at Tank Noodle and try their Pho with tendons, ox tail, or even bull penis (yes, you read that right).  The actual broth was a light tan color but still possessed a deeply beefy soul that did not drown out the cilantro, bean sprouts, and basil that I put in the mixture.

It’s like a beefy pool party and everyone’s invited!

I also added a healthy dosage of Sriracha sauce since I love my food to be extra spicy.  The the beef slices in the soup were cut almost razor-thin which led them to almost dissolve on my tongue like a package of deliciously beefy Listerine breath strips.  As for the tripe, it was tougher than the beef, naturally, but soaked up the Sriracha like some sort of meaty sponge which made it more palatable.  The rice based noodles were firm and resilient which showed their high quality and were in harmony with the other competing flavors in this Southeast Asian symphony.  By the end of the bowl, I was completely stuffed with beef, broth, and a spicy feeling in my mouth that reminded me of what a delicious meal I just consumed.

Even though I thought my meal was completely over, I had to indulge in one of my favorite Asian drinks:  boba tea.  If you’ve never had this drink, it can either be like a tea based fruit flavored slushie or more like a milk-tea hybrid.  Its signature flourish is the option to drink it with or without “bubbles” or “pearls”.  These two different names for the same thing are referring to the small balls of tapioca that reside on the bottom of the cup like little gummi nuggets of gold waiting to be discovered.  I personally love the little buggers, but other people aren’t fans due to their chewy/rubbery texture.  To each, his/her own, I guess.  Anyway,  I went with one of my favorite flavor mixtures which is mango and strawberry with bubbles.   The tea was not too syrupy, and they gave me a generous helping of the tapioca pearls which elated me greatly.  Once I finished this drink, I knew that I experienced a great meal even though it felt like the Tet Offensive was being reenacted in my stomach as I was too full and the spicy Sriracha was clashing with the sweetness of the tea.

A chalice of deliciousness

So if you’re looking for a new type of cuisine that goes beyond the typical American Chinese orange chicken or the usual Japanese sushi rolls, try going a bit further south into Indochina to sample a tasty traditional treat from Vietnam at Tank Noodle!

Tank Noodle (Pho Xe Tang ) on Urbanspoon

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