Here is the national dish of Vietnam, served and eaten at any time from breakfast to supper, in fancy restaurants or little take-away places, as well as in homes. The basis is a strong, well-flavored beef stock simmered for hours.
- 1 kg (2 lb) shin beef
- 2 kg (4 lb) beef bones (not shin bones)
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 3 whole star anise
- 5 cardamom pods
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 onion, peeled and left whole
- 2 sprigs celery leaves
- 1 knob ginger, sliced
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 500 g (1 lb) fresh rice noodles
- 250 g (8 oz) fresh mung bean sprouts
- 1 white onion, thinly sliced
- 300 g (10 oz) beef fillet, thinly sliced
- fresh mint, chopped
- coriander, chopped
- sliced chillies
- lime wedges and fish sauce to taste
To make the Stock, in a large saucepan put the beef, bones, whole spices, onion, celery leaves, ginger and fish sauce. Add cold water to completely cover and bring to the boil, skimming he surface of froth several times. Turn the heat to very low, cover the pan and simmer for 5-6 hours, but remove the beef after 2 hours or when it has become tender. Strain the stock and add salt to taste. The stock may be made ahead and frozen, and reheated to boiling point when required.
To serve, pour boiling water over the rice noodles, drain and put a serve of noodles in each bowl with a handful of bean sprouts. Scatter the onion slices over the noodles. Bring the stock to the boil. Put slices of beef into a large ladle and dip into the boiling stock. When the beef is pale pink, ladle over the noodles together with some stock. Serve at once, letting each person add fresh herbs and chillies to taste. Lime wedges and fish sauce are placed on the table and may be used to correct the seasoning.