The healing power of pho

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Sue France

I’ve had strep throat three times in as many months. For a 31-year-old who doesn’t work with children or in a hospital, this is a pretty befuddling situation.

Round Three hit hard over a recent weekend. It was purely summer outside — kids squealing with delight as they played, while I lay inside my apartment with the curtains drawn and the air conditioner kicking on and off while I slept. My lucid moments were spent wondering if I’d managed to create a new super strain of streptococcal bacteria. Was I patient zero in the impending Streptopocalypse? (Note to self: trademark Streptopocalypse and begin drafting screenplay.)

As an undergrad, I got strep throat a few times a year and I know two things are critical to ending the misery: Take every single antibiotic and eat pho.

I’d taken all of my antibiotics in my previous bouts with strep, but I hadn’t eaten any pho. Perhaps this was my mistake.

Luckily, just down the street from my apartment, in a shopping complex anchored by a grocery store, is an unassuming restaurant called Viña Pho & Grill. Despite the hustle and bustle of the parking lot outside, I’ve always found Viña to be a quiet respite. Its décor is simple and relaxing, its walls painted a warm shade of burnt orange that compliment the dark wood of the tables and chairs. Bamboo grows from a short wall that separates the dining room from a small bar area.

It’s a great place to go to have a quiet talk with a good friend, and most importantly, it’s a great place to go to have a delicious bowl of pho.

But on this particular weekend it seemed best if I get my pho to-go since I was a walking biohazard.

Traditional pho is served with piping hot broth, rice noodles and thin slices of rare beef (the broth cooks the beef down a bit more as you eat), but truth be told, I eat meat about once a week (mostly to write this column) and on this sickly Saturday I was craving a bowl of veggie pho.

An in-house bowl of pho usually comes with a side plate of bean sprouts, basil, jalapenos, cilantro and lime, with chili and hoisin sauces on the table to add if desired. While this allows for customizing the soup, my to-go order offered me the ability to further tailor my pho to my tastes. The veggies — broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and onions — broth, bean sprouts, limes, basil, cilantro, noodles… all came independently.

I made myself a thin soup at first — mostly broth and noodles, a wedge of lime and just a touch of basil — to test how my throat would handle food, and to my delight, for the first time in days, something I ate not only felt amazing on the way down, but tasted delicious too. I had no idea how hungry I was before that first bite, and the relief was immediate.

A well-made pho broth, to me, is a little reminiscent of the holidays, with hints of anise, cinnamon and clove. I’ve heard folks say that making great pho lies in that soothing, aromatic broth, simmering it for hours and hours with just the right blend of spices. I’m not sure what the cooks at Viña do, but their broth has that light festive flavor that provides the perfect backdrop to soft noodles and veggies (or beef or chicken).

By that sickly Saturday evening I was able to eat a second round of pho from my order, this time adding more veggies and a bit of chili sauce. A little heartier, still soothing.

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling exponentially better. I can’t say Western medicine didn’t have something to do with it, but I also can’t say the pho didn’t help. I’ve been strep-free for a few weeks now, and I’ll go ahead and admit I’m a believer in the healing power of pho. (Note to self: Create pho vaccine in Streptopocalypse screenplay.)

Viña Pho & Grill. 1630 30th St., 303-444-1809.