As nights grow longer and temperatures drop, warm, hearty soups are the definition of comfort food. While there is always a place in our hearts for a classic, meat-and-potatoes-filled Irish stew, this fall we’re looking across the globe for something to warm our bellies. Both pho and ramen have evolved from regional street foods to global phenomena—it seems like every SLC neighborhood now has its own ramen bar or pho restaurant. Here’s a bit of history behind each dish and where to get it in Utah.
Easy-to-make and dirt-cheap, blocks of instant ramen have saved a fair number of college students from total starvation. For ambitious chefs across the globe, though, ramen is a canvas for bold flavors and experimentation culinary lightyears away from your Costco value pack. In Japan, the noodle soup is at once a beloved street food, a national identity and an art form—in 2015 Tokyo’s Tsuta became the first ramen bar to earn a Michelin star. The dish starts with tare—a potent flavoring agent made with miso, soy sauce or any number of other ingredients—cooked in a broth of animal bones. Pretty much any bowl of ramen will include wheat noodles, which came to Japan from Chinese immigrants, made with alkaline salts. (I’ll skip the chemistry lesson, but this basically gives the noodles the texture to withstand the soup’s very high temperature.) Then ramen is topped off with chicken or pork and whatever creative combination of vegetables, eggs, spices and herbs the chef can think of.
When it opened: 2017
What to expect: “Yoko serves up delicious and unique Japanese fare in a cool and casual setting, with something for everyone.” —Owner Jameel Gaskins
Owner’s favorite dish: Vegetarian ramen
In Yoko Ramen’s hip, small space near downtown, movie posters adorn the walls, plants grow on the windowsill and steaming bowls of ramen flow out of the kitchen by the minute. One staple is served with simmered pork and tonkotsu, a flavorful, fatty pork bone broth that’s the specialty of Fukuoka, Japan, the world’s ramen capital. The chicken soup adds dimension to the salty shio tare with crisp, spicy bites of breaded chicken. The miso-based veggie ramen doesn’t need meat to pack plenty of flavor. “My favorite dish is the vegetable ramen, especially in the summer when we have an amazing assortment of vegetables from local farmers,” says Gaskins. Besides the titular soup, Yoko serves Japanese twists on cubano and fried chicken sandwiches, addictive pork or mushroom gyoza, sake and a small menu of affordable cocktails. Bonus: The restaurant has a serving window that opens into Dick N’ Dixies, the bar next door.
473 E. 300 South, SLC
WHERE ELSE TO GET RAMEN
1465 S. State St., SLC
1963 E. Murray Holladay Rd., Holladay
3947 S. Wasatch Blvd., Millcreek
11483 S. State St., Draper
2550 Washington Blvd., Ogden
Pho, a soup usually (but not always!) made with beef broth, herbs and chewy white rice noodles, is probably the signature Vietnamese dish around the world, but this beloved food has a modest origin story. Pho has only been around for about a century, and exact details about its history are few and far between. Here’s a brief summary—pho was invented in the early 1900s by street vendors in North Vietnam, including the capital Hanoi. They started with Chinese noodles and spices, added beef to please the palettes of French colonialists in the area, and voilá—a simple version of pho was born. The dish soon traveled south, and chefs began cooking more elaborate variations with sweeter broth and additional condiments. (Regional debates about the “best pho” simmer to this day.) As Vietnamese people migrated to the U.S., especially after the Vietnam War, Americanized versions of pho grew in popularity, becoming a part of our culinary melting pot.
When it opened: 2013
What to expect: “Pho Thin offers a Hanoi-style recipe. Come and enjoy not only this comforting bowl of goodness but many other street food favorites.” —Owner Diem Nguyen
Owner’s favorite dish: Any time of day: pho. For dinner: shaking beef tenderloin, a wok stir-fry
Pho is the star of the show at Pho Thin, a Vietnamese eatery tucked away in Sugar House. Their flavor-packed pho starts with the broth, whose delicate, savory taste is influenced by the dish’s origins in northern Vietnam. Using a family recipe, Pho Thin simmers the broth with a special spice blend for 24 hours. Mix and match different cuts of beef to top off your bowl. Brisket is a traditional favorite, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try tendons or tripe. Filet mignon and round eye cook as the broth is poured into the bowl, and the Vietnamese meatballs are my personal favorite. While traditional pho is usually served with few toppings, Pho Thin offers both northern and southern style varieties of condiments—the former with onion and vinegar and the latter with beansprouts, basil, lime and jalapeño.
2121 S. McClelland St., SLC
WHERE ELSE TO GET PHO
961 S. State St., SLC
1766 S. Main St., SLC
264 S. Main St., SLC
1215 Wilmington Ave., Ste. 100, SLC
Make Your Own Phở at Home
With its restorative and satisfyingly savory broth, adding phở to your repertoire of fall and winter recipes is kind of a no-brainer. On its face, phở seems straightforward: spiced, aromatic clear broth and rice noodles, topped with a variety of cuts of meat and fresh herbs. Where at-home phở concoctions tend to fall apart is in the details and lacking the necessary ingredients.
Traditionally, phở broth is made from scratch with bones and charred aromatics–ginger, onions or shallots, and various combinations of cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel, star anise, cardamom or coriander. If you’re shorter on time, you can cheat by starting with a premade base broth and skip right to charring the aromatics. For the meat, typically you’ll see cuts of sirloin or flank, brisket, tendon, tripe or Vietnamese meatballs. When looking for noodles, you’ll be looking for either fresh or dried “rice sticks” of medium thickness—too thin and you’re likely to end up with a soggy, congealed mess, too thick and the textures and balance of the soup will feel off. Garnishes will come down to preference, but some of the staples include fresh cilantro, bean sprouts, lime, Thai basil, jalapeño, sriracha and hoisin sauce.
While you might be able to find all of the ingredients at your usual grocery store, options can be limited. For a sure bet on where you can get all of the essential components (and then some), including fresh produce and protein, we recommend taking a trip to Saigon Supermarket. You’ll find better prices there, too.
When you’re ready to assemble your phở, blanch then cold-rinse the noodles, divide the noodles into bowls, top with cuts of meat, cover with about hot broth per bowl, then add garnishes. — Christie Porter
4304 El Camino St., Taylorsville
(in the Carriage Square Shopping Center)
See more stories like this and all of our food and drink coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah.