Good Morning Vietnamese Breakfast (#90)

Our film this month was Good Morning Vietnam. I had never seen this film, so my instinct was to lean into the name. I looked up popular breakfast foods in Vietnam. What I found is that Vietnamese people have pretty hearty breakfasts, eating things that we would normally not think of as breakfast foods. The two that really jumped out to me was beef pho (a soup) and bahn mi (a sandwich). I decided to go the pho route simply because its a dish I have had before I felt that I could do a decent job with it.

If your would rather do food featured in the film, there is a scene where Robin William's character visits the market and tries a spicy bowl of nuac mam noodle soup with fish balls. He doesn't seem to like the dish though, so pho seemed like a safer bet to me. If you are going for food authentic to the film, you may also want to feature cheap, poorly made beer, but I would suggest for the safety of your guests that you hold the formaldehyde.

Before attempting the pho, I did a lot of research and read a lot of recipes. Everyone seems to have their own preferred ingredients. The recipe that I followed the most closely was Aunty's Best Vietnamese Pho Recipe. I didn't have access to all of the ingredients that she had though, so here is how I made mine.

Faux Pho

1 large pot
1 metal sieve
1 saucepan

1 package of oxtail (approx 1.5 lbs)
2 teaspoons of beef tallow (optional)
8 cups organic beef bone broth
8+ cups water
5 tsp (or more) of ginger powder
2 large onions
6 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 lbs of rice vermicelli noodles

bean sprouts
thin sliced raw hot-pot style beef
chopped white onion
chopped green onion
lime wedges or lime juice
sriracha sauce

  1. Start by toasting your spices. With the onion, slice in half, put on a baking tray and broil on the top rack in the oven sliced side up, until it starts to char. (If you are using fresh ginger instead of powder, broil them together.)
  2. While that is happening, put any loose spices (cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds) in the pot. Heat and stir until they begin to toast. If you have beef tallow, you can put this in now to act like oil and keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Next put your oxtail in the pot, along with the bone broth and another 8 cups of water. Bring to a low boil. Traditionally, pho is made by boiling beef bones for many hours. Using the premade bone broth and the oxtail can help reduce that time. Plus you don't have the scum to clean up that you would using fresh bones.
  4. When the onions are done, add them to the broth along with the salt and sugar.
  5. Let this pot boil until all the meat on the oxtail looks fully cooked. There is no harm in letting it go even longer than that. I struggled with getting a good low boil or simmer on my broth. Check on it regularly. If the water seems to be getting low, just add more water. You have to do this a lot.
  6. While the broth is boiling, soak your rice noodles in a bowl of warmish water, just near or slightly above room temperature. Let them soak until they start to relax and become pliable. Then drain.
  7. Prep your toppings. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to boil. While waiting, you can chop your onions, slice your lime, etc. Other popular toppings you may want to prepare are cilantro and basil. Once the pot of water is boiling, use your metal sieve to blanch some bean sprouts. This means dropping the bean sprouts into the boiling water for 10-15 seconds to soften them up. I don't like to blanch long. Some people go longer.
  8. When the broth is done, the meat is cooked and everything is full of flavor, remove everything from the broth. If you have a second large pot and a strainer, you can use that. I do not have a second large pot, so I used prongs and my sieve to try to remove everything solid from my broth. Trash most of it, but the oxtail meat is pretty good and can be served as an additional pho topping. Once all solids have been removed, stir in your fish sauce and taste. You may need to add more water or more fish sauce. Leave the broth at a low simmer until dinner time.
  9. Once you are ready to serve, bring the broth and your saucepan of water back to a boil. You need to cook the noodles to order. Place them directly in the sieve, which you will drop in the boiling water until they look cooked (maybe 20 seconds). It's better to under cook them than over cook them, because they cook more later when the broth is added. Move the cooked noodles from the sieve to a bowl. The guest will place a few slices of thin raw beef on top of their noodles and will then use a ladle to pour some boiling hot broth directly over the meat, which should instantly cook it. Next, the move to the toppings station and top it with whatever they choose. In addition to the veg and oxtail meat, a lot of people like to add lemon juice for a citrus touch and sriracha for spice.
Overall, dinner was a success. The beef flavors were strong, but the asian spices, less so. In hindsight, I would probably add more ginger and more fish sauce if I was to do this again.

For dessert, I made another Vietnamese dish. This one is called che bap and is a simple dessert made mostly of corn and rice. To make it, I followed this recipe without any real substitutions. I made sure to use a sweet corn to get the most flavor. I was impressed with how well the rice soaked up all that corn flavor. I will say that at one point I was afraid that I had far too much water, but just like the recipes said, it thickened up after the corn was added. This was a good dish, but definitely not as sweet as us Americans come to expect from dessert. Oh, one last tip. The recipe said that you can eat it cold or warm. Eat it warm. Trust me, it's a lot better that way.

I also bought some red bean rice balls at the Asian market while shopping. Those come frozen and you simply have to boil them until they float. I think I actually liked them more than the corn pudding and they were a lot less work. haha

Overall, the film was a success and everyone seemed to enjoy the food as well.


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