One of the things I miss most about the Bay Area, is the abundance of south-east Asian restaurants. Yes we have our share of Thai and Vietnamese places here with a small sprinkling of Malaysian, but they are passable at best, often laden with MSG and salt. The worst part is that they miss the the whole point of being “cheap asian food” by being expensive.
Being a noodle soup fanatic, I especially miss having good Pho and Kuai Tiao Neua (Thai beef noodle soup). Both the noodles and soup are light and refreshing, making a perfect 1 bowl meal on even the hottest summer day. Back in the Bay, there’s a Thai Buddhist temple off MLK in Berkeley that makes a $5 bowl of noodles on Sundays that is indistinguishable from something you’d get from a street vendor in Bangkok.
Rather than continue my futile search for a descent bowl of beef noodle soup in Manhattan, I decided to try making it myself. While I can’t vouch for its authenticity, eating this sent me back to a steamy Bangkok street, tuk-tuks and all.
Spices for the soup: cinnamon stick, ginger, cilantro stems & roots, garlic, peppercorns, star anise
- 2 pounds oxtail
- 10 Cups water
- 1 pod star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger sliced
- 5 cilantro roots
- 1 medium onion (peeled and quartered)
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or more to taste)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- salt (to taste)
- 8 ounces banh pho (dried rice noodles), rehydrated in warm water
- 6 beef balls
- 1/4 sweet onion sliced thin
- fried garlic chips
- Meicai (fermented mustard greens) chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper sliced
- cilantro leaves
- 2 wedges lime
- First, boil a large pot of water; add the ox tail and boil for about 7 minutes. What you're trying to do here is to get all the foamy floaty stuff out of the oxtail so your soup comes out nice and clear. Dump this out through a strainer discarding the water, rinse the pot then thoroughly clean each piece of oxtail.
- Add the cleaned ox tail and 10 cups of fresh water into the pot along with the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems/roots, and onion. Bring it to a boil then lower the heat to low, cover and simmer for 3-4 hours (the longer you go, the more depth your soup will have).
- While you're waiting you can make some garlic chips by mandolining a few garlic cloves then adding them to a few tablespoons of hot oil over medium heat. Stir to ensure even browning then remove to a paper towel lined plate when they reach a nice golden brown.
- When it's done, pass the soup through a strainer into another pot skimming off any excess oil. Season with the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and salt. I tend to go light on the salt as some of the condiments I add have some salt in them, but if you're not planning on adding anything later, feel free to give it a bit more salt. Pick the meat off the bones and set aside.