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Turtle Power

January 10, 2008

I was lucky enough to stumble into the world of Vietnamese cuisine in Milpitas, CA, a hotbed of Vietnamese immigration, and thus a prime spot for the most talented restaurateurs and time-worn recipes. For the uninitiated, far more reside in the world of Asian food than the Chinese, Japanese and occasional Korean. This one is my particular favorite.

Turtle Tower
Willow, between Ellis and Eddy, on Larkin Street
Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA

While there are a great many dishes contained under the heading of Vietnamese food, I will focus on one, since it has the greatest cross-cultural appeal, and because I like it the most.

Pho [FUH]
noun
1. A soup dish whose typical ingredients include, but are not limited to: rice noodles, some meat product, chives, green onions, and broth. Variations may include: hoisin (plum) sauce, sriracha hot sauce, lime juice, bean sprouts, mint leaves, fish oil, guts, brains, fat, leeks, seafood, etc. May be customized to the patron’s liking. Served steaming hot.
2. Unpleasant exclamation employed by Jewish mothers.

For the purposes of this review, we will concern ourselves solely with the first definition, which manages to be far more appetizing.

Turtle Tower makes Pho in the traditional North Vietnamese style, which means fat noodles, no hoisin sauce (sadly), and plenty of brusque attitude. The food itself however, gives a wonderful, warm feeling on cold days. Enjoy wholesome peasant food at it’s finest, without all that nasty “use every part of the animal” philosophy we Americans find so repellent. No need to request this specifically however; the people who run the restaurant will see your wide-eyed expression and assume you can’t handle it, so don’t worry. Other places you may want to speak up.

Ok, enough chitchat, let’s order. Much like airline food, the blander versions of this dish come with basically two variations: chicken or beef. Which do you prefer? A word to the wise however: chicken (Pho Ga) is much more likely to include extraneous fatty tissue that may offend your bourgeois eyes, so go with the beef (Pho Bo) if you err on the timid side. Sometimes the beef will come in round clumps, but they don’t have any eyeballs inside or anything. Ask for thin sliced, cooked meat at the very least.

Once your food arrives, you will want to taste the broth. Tasting the broth is the best way to decide how much garnish to use; the better the broth, the less additions you will probably want. Pho broth is usually the best part of the soup, so don’t ruin it by adding a huge squirt of sriracha, unless you want to cry your way to the bottom of the bowl. I’m serious. Since this place doesn’t have plum sauce, the best way to sweeten it up (if you like that sort of thing) is to use bean sprouts or lime juice. Go easy on this stuff though, because this place has great broth. Just eat it already.

You’ll notice that though the bowls are fairly deep, the meal won’t sit heavy in your gut, allowing you to cross the street to Lee’s Sandwiches for Boba if you like. Maybe get some pineapple to complement the hot, starchy soup. Mmmmm. Feel refreshed; feel new. Turtle Power.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2008 1:23 am

    You have no idea how much I appreciate this entry. I always seem to hear someone (aka Matt) talk about how good this Pho stuff is, but being that I only listen half the time, never bothered to find out too much about it. My curiousity was piqued, however, and glad you have shed some light into the shady underbelly of Asian cuisine. Knowing that I am up for (almost) any gastro-intestinal challenge (ahem, do I feel a Wing Stop review coming up, mr. Love?) I would GLADLY like to try the unpronounceable Pho dish, under the watchful eye of you veterans, of course. I hope to find myself on your side of the pond this weekend, perhaps. If not, plans should be made. It has been too long, sir, too long!post script- Your introductory photo is making me hungry for some Cream of Turtle Soup….

  2. January 13, 2008 3:12 am

    take me to this pho wonderland to change my mind about this dish. Yo they serve turtle pho? If so you know ima eat Michelagelo, donnetelo, raphel and leonardo for diner.

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