Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pho Cong Ly

Pho, not a long, long way to run.

Pho Cong Ly

Location: 3601 W William Cannon Dr, Austin, TX 78749

Phone: (512) 891-7870

Over the years, many rules regarding eating have emerged from the Universal Mind:

  • Never eat anything bigger than your head. -Miss Piggy
  • Never eat anything that moves. -Robert Bender
  • Never eat anything older than your grandmother. -Love Lab
  • Never eat anything that still has a face on it. -Anonymous

We could add another: Never eat anything you can't pronounce. But then only those who can speak Vietnamese would enjoy the wonders of pho. (Which, as you can see from the sign, has a letter O with enhancements not common to typical written English. Those things give you a clue on how to pronounce it, if you know what you're doing. Which I don't.)

My education on pho, both as a food and as a difficult word to pronounce, began in Honolulu at Hale Vietnam. The first thing you learn is that it's not pronounced like "foe." I listened intently as my companions attempted to educate me and got the impression it was pronounced "fa", as if I were singing along to the Sound of Music. However, my companions were Japanese, Chinese and Korean, so one must take it with a soupcon of salt. Remembering that Google is your friend, I did some research and got conflicting reports. It might be pronounced like "fuh" or or maybe like "fur" with an upward inflection.

Me, I just say, "I'll take a #5 and tea."

No matter how you get it, the thing is to get it. If it appears to be a glorified bowl of soup, that's because it is a glorified bowl of soup. But oh the glory of the glorification. This is not your grandmother's chicken soup. (Unless your grandmother is Vietnamese. Then it might be. Check your local listings.)

It's really all about the broth. I don't know what they put in it to make it taste so good, but that's fine as long as they keep putting it in there. Then there's all the other stuff they put with it, some in the bowl, like noodles and meat, and some on the side, like bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, basil. And other things. According to Richard L. Chase, pho appears to be the soup equivalent of barbecue. (And we've already seen what that's all about.) He says that every pho cook has his or her own rules of what can and cannot go into the bowl, and even how it should go into the bowl.

That's fine. I'll take it however they bring it out. Perhaps I'm just not sophisticated enough to discriminate, but I've never been served a bowl of pho yet that didn't taste great, including the one I got at Pho Cong Ly last week when my favorite son-in-law lured me from my grindstone for a quick lunch, something he hasn't done for a few months.

Pho Cong Ly is one of his favorite grab-a-quick-lunch-while-slaving-away-in-the-hot-sun places. This location is in a strip mall (there are other locations, but each is individually owned and operated) and has all the ambiance of a middle school cafeteria, only without the middle schoolers in it. There are even a few rows of tables placed end to end, cafeteria style, where you can dine next to 20 other folks. Might be a good way to meet people if the tables were full, but they weren't.

I didn't talk him into pho, but he did switch from his usual order to try the lemongrass chicken and gave it a thumbs up. There are several other things I want to try, so a return trip is definitely indicated.

In the meantime, if anybody knows of a Korean restaurant in Austin, let me know!

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