Monday, December 12, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.
There's a sizable Vietnamese population in D.C. where I moved from, so it's easy to find decent pho and a respectable banh mi. Here? Tougher to find either: It appears South Florida isn't having the same banh mi love affair as elsewhere, which seems about right, since Vietnamese immigrants don't exactly dominate the area's demographics.
One place that's been on the radar is Saigon City
in Lauderhill, where I sampled both dishes for lunch. It was here I kicked off "Where Are We Drinking
?" last week with avocado bubble tea.
Pho is tremendous for a rainy day: a beef broth with rice noodles,
shaved beef or some meat variation, scallions, Thai basil, jalapeno, hot
chilis or Sriracha, and bean sprouts among other things.
As fun as it is playing mad scientist doctoring a soup with condiments and heat, I crave pho for the broth, made with roasted beef bones, then steeped with caramelized onions and infused with star anise and cinnamon. Once I was at a pho shop while a guy picked up five quarts of it. "What are you cooking?" I asked. "I drink a couple glasses every day for breakfast." It's so delicious I can see why.
A steaming bowl at Saigon City teased the memory of delicious pho, but the broth was disappointingly salty. I slurped through to access flavors I have missed, occasionally sipping broth, wishing it were lovely. Instead, it was like drinking sand.
The banh mi was better, a traditional grilled pork sandwich without the pate layer, heaped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeno, painted with fish sauce, and garnished with handful of cilantro. The key here is the bread: a French demi-baguette with a crusty exterior and an airy, flavorful crumb. Wrapped like a package in waxed paper, circled with a rubber band, the sandwich and its presentation did not disappoint.
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