Like clockwork, my internal food meter ticks into soup mode around Halloween. Last year at this time, I dipped my spoon into soups at Marlene’s, Metropolitan Market and Tacoma’s favorite niche soup restaurant – Infinite Soups.
This chilly Fall, I’m visiting soups from around Asia– ramen and pho and tom yum (I’m resisting writing “oh my” after that).
When the weather really started to take a dive last week, I headed to my favorite place for pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup pronounced “fuh” (but so many people say “foe,” I don’t think it matters anymore). Vien Dong is at the corner of 38th and Yakima, the center of the Lincoln District, a neighborhood full of tiny Vietnamese restaurants (read my Lincoln banh mi sandwich report here).
Vien Dong does high volume soup. A five minute wait would be long at this small soup shop. On a cold fall day, driving by, the windows of Vien Dong usually are steamed over –and that’s when I know soup season officially has arrived.
Soups at most pho restaurants are in the $6-$7 range. Expensive eating, it is not. If you’ve never enjoyed pho soup, let me quickly describe it for you. It’s a soup heady with the flavors of Southeast Asia –hot, salty, sour and sometimes even a little sweet. An aromatic, anise scented broth is peppered with scallions and slivers of onions; a tangle of slippery rice noodles fills the bottom of the bowl. Meat choices – sometimes served in the soup bowl and sometimes served on the side for you to drop in and cook – range from shrimp to chicken, tofu, thin slivers of beef steak, barbecued pork, pork roll, and meatballs, too. A tray of fresh bean sprouts, holy basil, cilantro, lime wedges and sliced jalapenos is served on the side for more flavor power. Any number of condiments – plum sauce, fish sauce, soy, sugar, Sri racha, chile oil -can make the soup as flavorful, or not, as a diner desires.
At Vien Dong, the broth offers dimension, and here’s why: copious cilantro stems and leaves float in the bowl, turning the broth ultra fragrant with an earthy citrus tone. Last week, I slurped a bowl of beef ($5.75) pho, but it was my dining partner’s pork and shrimp soup ($6.75) that held my palate’s interest. No. 13 is listed on the Southern style noodle soup menu. It comes with a salty broth with a few slices of shrimp, slivers of barbecued pork and rectangle slices of compressed pork roll (if mystery meat bothers you, you may want to skip this soup). What I loved about the soup was the texture of chewy egg noodles against slippery rice noodles. What’s better than soup with noodles? Soup with two kinds of noodles. This is the soup that cures colds. Or at least you’ll feel better after eating it.
YOUR TURN: Where do you go for pho? I recently discovered Pho King on the hilltop, a few doors down from LeLe. Been there yet?