Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, started as a street dish in early 20th century Vietnam. Its popularity spread worldwide after South Vietnamese refugees brought their food and culture with them across the globe after the fall of Saigon in 1975. To get my fill of the well-revered dish, I go to White Bowl—the chic little restaurant off of Enterprise Drive in Houma.
Fresh off a busy day at work, I was eagerly looking for a bowl of pho to replenish my spirits. Still before rush hour, the cafe-like spaced area only had a few occupied tables. The hostess greeted me immediately and told me to choose where I would like to sit. I sat near the back corner, in the booth-table hybrid. From there, I glanced around the restaurant at its somewhat minimalist décor and colors dominated by black and white—complimented throughout by themes of red in its light fixtures, cups and accent walls.
Because I often go to White Bowl just to get pho, I asked the waitress for suggestions for appetizers.
“Our wings are very popular,” she told me.
At first, I was hesitant to order them as I figured Americans always order wings when we see them on a menu, regardless of where we are or how noteworthy the wings actually are; I was wrong.
The Salt & Pepper Wings arrived at my table freshly out the fryer—still smoking—mounted on a small rectangular plate. On top the pile of the lightly-breaded wings were onions and various peppers that added vibrant colors to the plate. However, the add-ons contributed more than just to the aesthetics as they enriched the flavors of the wings. Each crunchy bite brought on a savory spicy-yet-sweet sensation to my taste buds. I reluctantly stopped munching to save room for my main course.
The waitress used both hands to carry the massive bowl of boiled rice noodles, bathing with cilantro, yellow and green onions, rare steak, meatballs, brisket and tripe and tendon, in a clear beef broth. The Pho Combination arrived at my table with a side veggie plate consisting of basil leaves, a lime, jalapeños and bean sprouts—to be added at will.
I dropped the bean sprouts and jalapeños into my bowl and then slapped the basil leaves in between the palms of my hands before releasing them on the surface of the soup. Next for the preparation, I squeezed the lime, covering the entirety of the soup.
Finally, I dipped my duck spoon in to taste the broth. There’s plenty of herbs, spices, vegetables and meats that go into this complex mixture of flavors, but you somehow taste every one. I used my spoon as reinforcement for my fork to the gather the soft noodles that adequately soaked in the taste of the dish. The meats, all tenderly cooked, had an excellent prominence in the soup. The added veggies complimented the broth, noodles and beef, especially the bean sprouts that gave the entrée a nice subtle crunch.
After I started devouring the dish, I remembered I had bonus tang to add. I reached over my table and grabbed both Sriracha and hoisin sauces—spicy and sweet, respectively. I swirled the sauces around my bowl which subsequently gave the broth a darker color. Perhaps too much Sriracha, as my nose started to run—but it didn’t matter. Now, for me, the dish was complete.
With just the broth left—emptied of all the other pieces that made it pho—I contemplated lifting the bowl up to my face to finish the rest of the significant amount of broth. If the restaurant didn’t start to get more crowded and I was less prideful, I might have.
I requested my check after ordering a bubble tea, which I again looked towards my waitress for suggestions for. With so many choices and variations, we finally settled on strawberry tea with mango bubbles—which turned out to be more smoothie than tea.
Although I got the frozen treat to go, I found myself staying to listen in on other conversations circling around the close, intimate seating area. Overheard at one table was something about a swamp man and at another was a debate on the proper way to order Cane’s—which in my humble opinion is no coleslaw, extra fries.
I started to reflect on my own experiences there, whether they were with family, or friends or by myself, they were always memorable and around a bowl of warm, refreshing pho. •