Recently my writing was criticised for being too Euro-centric and that such a focus has limited my culinary horizons. Despite having written about my love of Asian street food before, it was suggested that I wrote more about the region. So today, I’m writing about my experience with a French dish, indeed ‘the quintessence of French family cuisine, and the most celebrated dish in France’, pot-au-feu (literally, pot in the fire). Although, you may know it as pho, its watery, yet much celebrated Vietnamese cousin.
The allure of both pot-au-feu and pho is the flavourful soup. But soup can only take you so far, no matter how long it’s cooked for, or how well balanced the charred ginger and aromats are. Balance and aromats being the catch cry of the pho-nomenon bandwagon. To be a complete meal, you need meat, and not slim cuts of beef. Pot-au-feu is made with short ribs, rolled brisket, gravy beef and marrow bones cooked slowly to extract the marrow flavour. The soup is served first, the way it should be, as an entrée followed by the meat and vegetables; onions, carrots, turnips, leeks and celeriac. Real vegetables, unlike bean sprouts and coriander.
To make a Frenchman cry, Anthony Bourdain says, serve him a nice bowl of pot-au-feu, or what he calls ‘soul food for socialists … Who would have thought that a big pile of boiled meat and vegetables could be so good?’ The same can pho sure be said for hipsters returning from Hanoi’s old quarter, except they’ll go home hungry. But hey, it’s all about soup…
Were you eating pot-au-feu before pho was cool?
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