Food brings people together. It can create an atmosphere of comfort, viagra nostalgia and family. Food is an essential part of any occasion, look celebration or holiday. This year, for the first time in a long time, I celebrated Chinese New Year.
As a kid, Chinese New Year was always spent ordering take-out from my family’s favourite Chinese restaurant in Newmarket, 4 Seasons. It was not traditional Chinese food by any means but it was as authentic and ethnic as Newmarket used to be back then. 4 Seasons is still some of my favourite comfort food. This food, although greasy and absolutely terrible for us, always brought my family together and is still a staple when someone is returning home after a long time away.
Chinese New Year this year was spent with part of my Toronto family – GC and Cynthia. Cynthia suggested we try to ring in the New Year at Mother’s Dumplings. Unsurprisingly, much of the city had the same idea and the restaurant was packed. Although it is disappointing to arrive at a restaurant and be denied because they are full, there is something that makes me smile to think of a room of people all enjoying and sharing in delicious food.
We wandered down Spadina and found our way into Pho Hung. Yes, we do realize that pho is Vietnamese and not Chinese but it is commonly referred to as Asian New Year and one of Cynthia’s requirements for properly celebrating is having noodles. I had never had pho before. I had avoided Vietnamese food due to their need to sprinkle, dip and fry everything in peanuts (in some form or another). If you have the unfortunate luck like me to have a severe peanut allergy, Pho Hung is a place that you can try Vietnamese food. The menu is clear and explicit about what items feature peanuts and in what capacity. The staff speaks very good, clear English and your allergies and limitations can easily be conveyed. Of course, like all restaurants, there is always the possibility of cross-contamination and traces but as a food lover, this is a risk I take. Note: I am fairly diligent and careful about my allergies but I could definitely but better about it. Unfortunately, I can be cavalier and let my love of food cloud my judgment.
We sampled from throughout the menu. We started with the Goi Cuon Chay and Cha Gio Chay. The Goi Cuon Chay are cold vegetarian spring rolls served with a peanut sauce on the side. The spring rolls are tightly wrapped and packed with rice, greens and shrimp. The spring rolls are dry which makes the peanut sauce a necessary evil. Rarely do things with peanuts look appetizing to me as they are equated in my mind with death but this sauce looked divine. It was a rich caramely brown colour, dotted with roasted peanuts. Although it looked unreal, I opted to evade death and topped my spring roll with soya sauce. The Cha Gio Chay are deep fried vegetarian spring rolls. Similar to the cold spring rolls, these are filled with rice and vegetables but are deep fried, the crispy coating holding the rolls together. There is a limited number of these that I could eat as they are on the more greasy side and sit like a brick in your stomach.
Cynthia and I shared the Pho Tai Bo Vien. This is a beef rice noodle soup, cooked rare with beef balls, and served with sprouts, lime and Thai basil. This is one of the biggest meals I have ever order for the least amount of money. The extra large is $9 with a nominal charge for splitting between multiple people. The bowl could easily serve six people as a side for a regular meal or two really hungry people.
The bowl arrives at the table steaming and giving off wafts of broth and meat slowly cooking. The noodles find themselves in a delicate bed at the bottom of the bowl, absorbing all the aromatic flavours of the beef as it cooks. The beef is thinly shaved, delicate enough that it cooks only slightly, maintaining its flavor and purity. The beef balls are tightly packed but float to the top of the bowl, dotting the soup. The Thai basil and lime add a fruity, citrus note to the bowl, creating a simple and subtle contrast of flavours with the richness of the beef. I topped my own bowl with two types of sriracha, adding a hint of heat that tied the whole bowl together.
This is comfort food: warm broth, heartiness from the beef, heft from the noodles and sprouts and basil for greenery. It is a complete meal in a bowl, that warms the depth of your body and it slowly spreads throughout warming you completely. This is the perfect meal for a cold and blustering winter day.
GC ordered the Co’m Su’on, Bi, Cha, Hot Ga. This is a barbecued pork chop, with shredded pork, steamed quiche, a fried egg and rice. This dish has a little bit of everything, leaving you feel satisfied across all flavour profiles. This plate definitely had my intrigued, as I slyly picked at it over GC’s shoulder. Next time I am going to suggest that we split a bowl of pho and each enjoy one of these entrée style dishes.
I loved my first introduction to Vietnamese food and now will not shy away from it. I want to try more variations of pho and winter is the perfect time to do so. Keep warm all winter long with delicious, comforting food. Happy munching!