A few weeks ago, I had a real hankering for a big bowl of pho. It’s partially because it was snowy (it is tonight, too), partially because temperatures had ebbed to the single digits (again, tonight, too) and because winter had no end in sight. Sadly, that also remains the case.
But a bowl of long-simmered Vietnamese beef broth full of chewy-tender noodles topped with rare beef, fresh basil and all amounts of sauces and seasonings goes a long way toward making my wintery thoughts go away.
I had planned many hours earlier to order my favorite, the combination pho, but looked at the menu anyway. To my delight, my eye landed on a small word – new! – next to Bo Kho, Vietnamese beef stew. I took a chance. As you’ve probably figured out, it paid off.
Bo Kho is wonderfully flavorful, scented with cinnamon. Instead of rare beef, brisket or meatballs, it has long-simmered stew meat and carrots. Diners can choose from egg or rice noodles. The big bowl warms you right down to the core. I couldn’t wait to write about it.
After our visit, I called the restaurant back to find out what goes into that bowl.
Shelby Montalvo, who has worked at Saigon for a few years, said the kitchen first marinates the beef for 48 hours, then stews it with the carrots, creating a sort of “stew base.” Then, when it gets served, a portion of the stew gets blended with a few ladles of the house-made pho beef broth and the noodles, along with the usual side plate of toppings, including lime, basil and cilantro.
The stew is sweeter than the regular pho, thanks to several warming spices, including cinnamon. The tender beef falls apart with each bite.
“It’s a very long process,” she said. “And it’s all from scratch.”
The soup used to be a staple at Saigon, but then it got discontinued for a few years. Now it’s back.
“It has more of a warming, homey sensation,” she said. “It’s like sitting at home eating stew, but it has a boost because it’s like a pho stew.”
My thoughts exactly.
Saigon is at 12100 W. Center Rd. For more information, call (402) 697-7000.