Saturday, March 31, 2012

Phở Xào

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I’m a worrier by nature. I overthink things, always think twice (except my words maybe. I really should learn to think before I speak sometimes but that’s a whole different story) and more often than good for me, assume an outcome to be the worst case scenario. 
It’s not only my own business I worry about. I worry about others and everything. Life. I’m simply a worrier and I cannot change it.

Phở Xào

A friend of mine is the complete opposite. What I should have learned from her is that worrying too much does not make things better but slows you down and unhappier than you could be. It’s as easy as that. I mean sure, there is a distinct difference between worrying too much and being devil-may-care. She should have taught me that that not everything has to be completely thought-out till the end and that the things with the most questions marks can be the greatest opportunities and sometimes, all you can lose is time. But even then you have gained experience. And maybe a story to tell.

This friend recently left family, friends - a whole life - behind for a job in her home country Vietnam, with no flight booked and no place to stay confirmed only days prior to her first day of work. And it all worked out fine. It’s not that she is completely oblivious to potential problems. It’s just that she chooses to worry once things get ugly and not a second earlier. How I envy her for that ability.

Friendship is not restricted by distance and out of sight surely does not mean out of mind – so I wish her all the best and see you soon!

Without her, I could not share this recipe with you as she taught me how to prepare this simple Vietnamese down-home dish: Phở Xào (pronounced rather like the French “fin”  and, well, “sow”). Ginger and garlic is what boosts the flavour here; never underestimate the power of alliteration! Another very important ingredient is the fish sauce. 
If you have never used fish sauce before, don’t be put off by the pungent smell. While it is mainly made from anchovies, it is not fishy at all but rather cheesy in its scent that also fades when used in a dish, leaving nothing but a savory, salty note.

Phở Xào

Another new favourite of mine introduced here is kai-lan (also called gai-lan, cải làn in Vietnamese and phak khana in Thai. My Asian grocery store calls it soi sam and I have seen it being called choi sum as well but after some research I found out that the term is rather vague). Kai-lan – beautifully translating to “mustard orchid” – has a fresh, buttery flavour that is both slightly sweet and salty and acts similar to spinach when being cooked. As not only the leaves but also the stems are edible, it’s almost like you get two kinds of vegetable texture-wise. If you cannot find a place that sells it, don’t fret: Pak choi is a great substitute and may be more available.

Phở Xào

Phở Xào
Serves 4

  • 400g (14 oz) beef (you can use any kind, really)
  • 250-300g (9-10.5 oz) kai-lan (or pak choi)
  • 6 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 piece of ginger the size of a thumb, peeled. 
  • 400g (14 oz) tagliatelle-style rice noodles (the brand I use most often goes by the melodious name “Oh!Ricey”) 
  • Pepper to taste 
  • 6 tbsp. soy sauce (more to taste) 
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce  (nước mắm or nam pla; more to taste, but use sparingly as it is quite strong in flavour)
  • 3 tbsp. neutral oil (I used sesame seed oil), more if needed
  • Thinly cut red chili for garnish (optional)
  • 1 egg (optional, see intructions)

  1. Cut beef in stripes as thin as possible, season with 6 tablespoons of soy sauce and two tablespoons of fish sauce as well as pepper to your liking and one tablespoon of oil. Set aside.
  2. Cut ginger in very thin stripes, chop garlic as small as possible – mix and set aside.
    In a large heat-proof vessel, soak noodles in hot water.
  3. Wash and cut kai-lan  in pieces as long as your thumb - stem and leaves. Set aside.
    Bring wok or pan to medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil. Add meat and fry, stirring continuously (the meat is not supposed to brown at all). Once meat is just done, remove from pan and set aside.
  4. Add garlic and ginger to pan, let brown slightly. Add kai-lan, sauté until it starts to shrivel (like spinach), set aside.
  5. Drain noodles. Add another tablespoon of oil to wok/pan, pour in noodles. Fry until slightly browned, add more soy and fish sauce to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce).
  6. Throw meat and vegetables back in, stir well, garnish with chili and serve immediately.

Vegetarian alternative:

Omit beef and step 1 & 5. During the last step, add a mixture of one egg, 6 tablespoons of soy sauce and two tablespoons of fish sauce as well as pepper to your liking, stir until egg is set.


  1. lovely combination looks wonderful

  2. I love pho and eat many different kinds... in fact I go eat pho once a week (in college days 2-3 times a week!). This looks delicious!! Totally my comfort - love Vietnamese noodle soup!

    I'm a worrier too. I think and analyze too much. In reality I should just give it a try and see. I could learn more new things that way, instead of think and worry and end up not doing sometimes... I tend to stay in my comfort zone. Now with the kids around, I try to change my perspective too so that my kids won't be a copycat of me. :-) At least I am aware and try my best. :-) It's nice that you have a good friend who inspires you!

  3. one of my favorite vietnamese soup,great flavored !!

  4. The best Pho I ever had was in Ho Chi Minh about 3 years ago. Boy, did I open my eyes then! Simple, yet with the freshest ingredients and bursting flavors. I'm not a worrier like you and often jump headlong into things, like my blogging, for example :). It's not always recommended, but I chose to live the fullest life because I know it's my ONLY life.

    Your Pho looks divine, and you are really good in the kitchen. Nothing much to worry about there! ;))

  5. Oh I love your styling on this - looks fab!

  6. I know very little, well, almost nothing, about Vietnamese kitchen, but that doesn't stop me from salivating at this delicious looking pho. Even pak choi is not that easy to find here...
    I am not a worrier (my husband has a different opinion though), but leaving everything behind for a new job like that isn't something I would do...I guess your friend has a plan B and that's after all her home country.

  7. I tend to be the same Tobias, but it's all a matter of finding that inner balance. Your Pho looks incredible! Pho, both beef and chicken, are one of my favorite dishes. Thanks for sharing, my mouth is watering now :)

  8. I am with Nancy on this...all about balance, and I am sure you will find
    yours :) As for this dish...delightful! I would love to try out the vegetarian version :)

  9. gorgeous lighting in the photos! I worry a lot too but these days I am getting better and learned to relax :)

  10. Sounds and looks absolutely delicious. I've never used kai-lan before but will have to be on the look out for it next time I'm in an Asian supermarket.

  11. I'm a little bit of a worrier too. I used to be really perfectionistic (not even a word...) when I was younger, but I've started believing in the universe a little more. I love your photos! The filter adds a really interesting effect.

  12. There was a time when I was a compulsive worrier and brooder but life has taught me (like your friend) that worrying only makes you miserable and does make change or make things better.
    Your Pho Xao looks lovely and delicious.


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