Make a quick Japanese variation on Vietnamese pho

Make sure you soak and scrub the clams to get rid of grit before cooking. PHOTO: THE JAPAN NEWS
Soak the pho noodles in warm water first to soften them. PHOTO: THE JAPAN TIMES
Boil the noodles to the consistency you prefer. PHOTO: THE JAPAN TIMES

(THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN) - Masumi Suzuki, owner-chef of Vietnamese restaurant Kitchen in Nishi-Azabu, Minato Ward, Tokyo, has a simple recipe for Vietnamese pho, a noodle dish familiar to Japanese people. In this recipe, you can enjoy rice noodles with dashi broth using asari clams that are currently in season.

Vietnam boasts a rich noodle culture with various types of rice noodles of different widths and shapes. 

“For Vietnamese people, pho noodles are usually eaten at restaurants, and they do not cook them at home so often,” Ms Suzuki said.

Dried pho noodles are available in Japan at major supermarkets or online. Ms Suzuki recommends pho noodles containing tapioca since this gives them a sticky texture.

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It is best to rehydrate the noodles in warm water just up to the point at which they become pliable, and then lightly boil them. If you want a sticky texture, boil the noodles for about 30 seconds. If you like soft noodles, boil them for one minute. Since the noodles tend to stick together, it is better to boil one serving at a time. 

“You can directly boil the dried pho noodles without rehydrating them, but with this method, the noodles tend to lose texture,” Ms Suzuki said.

  • ASARI DASHI PHO 

  • INGREDIENTS

    160g dried pho noodles
    400g asari clams (Soak in water to remove sand)
    1/6 red onion (or yellow onion)
    3 or 4 thin green bannonegi onions
    1 tsp chopped garlic
    1½ tbsp nuoc mam (or nam pla) sauce
    A generous supply of lemon, cilantro leaves and chili sauce as condiments

  • METHOD

    1. Immerse pho noodles in warm water (35 deg C to 40 deg C) for about 30 minutes.
    2. Wash clams well and thoroughly scrub shells. Soak thinly sliced onions in water for about five minutes. Drain onions and remove moisture with kitchen paper. Cut bannonegi green onions into small pieces.
    3. Put 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and some garlic in a pot and heat over medium heat briefly, then stir in clams.
    4. When the clam shells are coated in oil, pour 4 cups of water into the pot. When the water comes to a boil and the clams begin to open, skim off any residue from the surface. Season the stock with nuoc mam and ½ teaspoon of salt.
    5. Boil some water in another pot and use a handheld colander to immerse one portion of pho noodles for about 30 seconds. Thoroughly drain the noodles and serve in a bowl.
    6. Add the sliced onions and bannonegi green onions, and pour the asari stock, including the clams in their shells, into the bowl. Add cilantro leaves chopped into 1-centimeter pieces, lemon cut into wedges and chili sauce for seasoning.
    Serves two. 

Pho broth is usually made by cooking beef and other ingredients for a long time, which requires care and time. Clams are used in this recipe so that the broth can be made more easily.

“In Vietnam, some people now use seafood such as hamaguri clams to make broth,” Ms  Suzuki said. You can also use squid or shrimp instead of clams.

For seasoning, the Vietnamese fish sauce nuoc mam is used. Nuoc mam is available in Japan at most major supermarkets and other places. Sprinkle onions or thin green bannonegi onions over the pho.

One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that there is a lot of room to flavour it to one’s taste. “It’s like each individual finishes the last 20 per cent of the cooking process on their own,” Ms Suzuki said. For this recipe, you can add the spicy flavour of chili sauce, the sour flavour of lemon or the aroma of cilantro leaves as desired.

Broth made with clams has a mild taste, which creates a good contrast with the sticky and smooth texture of the pho noodles and the crunchy texture of onions.

You can deep-fry any extra dried noodles to make chips - they make a great accompaniment for drinks.

Cut pho noodles into 10cm pieces and deep-fry them in oil heated to about 170 degrees Celsius until they become white. They taste like deep-fried sembei rice crackers and are very addictive.

They can be eaten plain, or you can serve them with salt, pepper or nuoc mam.