I’d been back in San Miguel for two weeks and I was pining, a word that The Oxford Dictionary defines as “suffering a mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart”. Well maybe it wasn’t quite a broken heart. Because I know, from that Bee Gees ballad, that broken hearts can never be mended. This one was just a slightly wounded heart that could be easily repaired with an iPhone and a forefinger.
Why was I pining? In one word, in three letters, pho. That Vietnamese delicacy that is a once-a-week, every week addiction when I’m Toronto.
There are three places in San Miguel de Allende that I knew served pho. I’d seen that my go-to place had adjusted to times of covid. They now delivered. They could now be my sent-from place. I messaged them. And messaged them again. Nothing.
But I’d seen something on social media. A fourth source of pho. Should I give the rookie a go?
The place was called Naree’s Kimchi, etc. I liked the logo. It wouldn’t be the first time I chose to do something based on a typeface.
The chef’s name was Narae Kim Ellis. Probably half the Koreans I’d ever met had a Kim somewhere in their name. There was probably some Asian blood in this woman. She might just know how to make a good pho.
I messaged Narae. The deal was done. New Year’s Eve fireworks would be preceded by Narae’s pho.
I liked the way it arrived, all the components of a traditional pho, all packaged separately. The rice noodles. The mung bean sprouts, the basil and lime. The hoisin and sriracha. The beef. And that all-important broth.
Narae Kim Ellis had messaged the simple instructions:
“Boil the broth and meat. Once the broth boils, add noodles and boil for one minute. Add the herbs, lime juice and enjoy!”
I thought of saying to Don Day’s Wife, “Why don’t you let me cook dinner tonight?” Then I thought better of it.
A pho is measured by its broth. It’s the heart, the soul, the essence, the quintessence, the make or break of any pho.
A good broth cannot be created without bones, without cartilage, without collagen, without marrow. And it takes hours of simmering those cow parts to create a good broth.
“This is a really, really good broth”, said Don Day’s Wife, “so rich, so…I can’t use a more appropriate word than…so beefy.
“Nicely spiced too”, she continued. “A little more ginger than most but it works.”
I messaged Narae Kim Ellis and asked her for some details on how she makes such a full-flavored, multi-levelled broth.
She told me, “Narae’s Kimchi etc makes pho using the knuckle bones, shank bones, and various cuts of meats. The meats are simmered for two hours or less, while the bones are cooked for eight hours and left in the large pot to continue to cook slowly.”
The second most important ingredient in pho is the beef. In Vietnamese restaurants that specialize in pho, you’ll see numerous choices including tendons and tripe. The less-daring Don Day and his phellow phoers, usually stick to just two choices, one that is most often called flank and a second that is called rare beef.
Chef Narae’s pho came with one type of beef, chunks of well-done cheeks that she sources from the local Canada de la Virgen ranch. The beef could have been a little more moist and tender but, though not exceptional, it was fine. What was disappointing was the quantity. There should have been more of it and even with ordering “extra beef” there wasn’t as much as I’m used to in Toronto pho houses.
The dry (no one in San Miguel makes fresh) rice noodles, the bean sprouts, basil, cilantro (uncommon but welcomed) the lime, hoisin and sriracha all helped complete a pho that would stand tall on Spadina or Gerrard, the main streets for those searching for pho in Toronto.
My wounded heart had been mended. I added Narae’s Kimchi, etc to my contact list. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
To find out what Narae’s cooking and when, you can check out her Facebook page at Narae’s Kimchi, etc or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.