My standard order is pho tai nam; rare round steak and well-done brisket. Not terribly adventurous, I know.
Phở is so good here in Seattle, especially here in the Rainier Valley. The broth is rich, complex, and delicious, so it doesn’t require a lot of doctoring. I discovered once that pho shops can cut corners by boiling only bones; I suspect that that’s why the broth in New York pho was not very rich. Here in Seattle, they boil everything, and boiling the tendons creates the fatty fatty fat that you can order as nước béo.
As soon as my pho hits the table, I put in all the jalapeño slices. I like the slow burn of the jalapeño slices better than any of the hot sauces. I pull the leaves off of the thai basil that they serve, and then rip them and drop them into my soup. A small pile of bean sprouts go on top, and that’s it for now. I’ll add more bean sprouts as I go.
I mix the beef into the hot soup so that it cooks. I never squeeze the lime in right away, because I don’t like the taste of cooked lime juice. Besides, squeezing lime changes the chemistry of pho; I like to eat the first half of my pho without lime. Then halfway through the bowl, I squeeze the lime, and it tastes like a whole new dish. The lime also somehow seems to activate the heat in the jalapeños.
That’s it! When the broth is rich and complex, you can leave the rest of it simple.