Finding Pho

Beef pho from Pho 88 in Lowell. Swirls of sriracha and hoisin sauces wait to be mixed.     Photo by Denise Dubé.

Beef pho from Pho 88 in Lowell. Swirls of sriracha and hoisin sauces wait to be mixed. Photo by Denise Dubé.

Soup truly nourishes my soul and warms my heart, no matter what the season. Pho, a Vietnamese staple, is a personal favorite. My San Franciscan sister-in-law, while in Boston a dozen years ago, introduced me to this exotic elixir at Pho Pasteur in Cambridge.

A heaping dish, filled with bean sprouts, basil, lime, and a soup spoon, are first brought to the table. A giant-sized white bowl, filled with steaming hints of anise, ginger, cardamom and coriander, arrives next. Thin slices of rare flank steak float in the broth and begin cooking before my eyes. Noodles swirl around the bowl, taunting you to catch them with a spoon or chopsticks, if you dare.


The sprouts, basil and lime lets me individualize every bowl. Sriracha and hoisin sauces add a bit more spice to this favorite culinary potion.

My husband, Jim, and I revisited Pho Pasteur a few times in the next two years, but my real introduction to Pho came while staying at the Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. I ate it for breakfast – and wherever else I stayed in Vietnam. This common street food, served by sidewalk vendors, is commonly eaten at breakfast and sometimes for lunch.

After watching how the bowls were washed and reused, I didn’t have the courage to try the vendors, but I did partake from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.

It’s now sort of a game, finding the best pho, whether it’s local or somewhere within the United States. At home I frequent Pho 88 in Lowell . My daughter prefers Pho Da Lat, only a few hundred feet up the street. While in Orlando I ate at another Pho 88. The soup, and the rice paper wrapped spring rolls and the bánh xèo (a type of soy pancake filled with meat or fish) were incredible. The restaurant’s name left me with questions. Was Pho 88 a franchised chain?

Nope, apparently 88 is considered a lucky number, so finding Pho 88 in Westchester County, New York, Orlando, Florida or Lowell, Massachusetts isn’t surprising.

Pho with chicken. Photo from a Connecticut restaurant, taken by Rosemary Minati.

Pho with chicken. Photo from a Connecticut restaurant, taken by Rosemary Minati.

I’ve thought about making this soup; heaven knows there are plenty of online recipes. They’re time consuming and the listed spices are always different. For now, I’ll keep going to Le’s (formerly Pho Pasteur), Pho 88 or Pho Dalat – unless someone has a killer recipe to share …


Writing saved me. That, the Lord’s prayer, wishful thinking and massive doses of therapy.

Journals took me through the first part of my life. Later newspapers and magazines printed my not-so-nice news pieces, feel-good profiles and trendy features.

I progressed to food and travel magazines with assignments that took me around and around the world. Along the way I learned our cultures are woven into everything we eat. Our history, no matter how long or short, connects us. Ancient German designs match those in Ireland, France and even the Middle East. Don’t believe me? I have pictures.

Although traveling (and eating) is exciting, there really isn’t an outlet to tell those “extra” bits and pieces that don’t really fit into feel-good food and travel stories.

Gracie Spoon is my place to share those food and travel stories that don’t come with Michelin stars and 800 thread-count sheets. Sometimes, life’s best comes from a street cart or a corner dive. Small out-of-the way hotels, bed and breakfasts and family owned hotels are pretty interesting too.

Edgy folks with a sense of humor should join me as I periodically share stories. More often than not I’ll include food — for me it’s life and helps tell my story.

Off to finish two assignments. I’ll be back.

Till then, Gracie (Grace E. Spoon)