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Ba Bar's Ramen Pho: a rare stumble

By Ronald Holden

One of America's greatest taste combinations, in my experience, is the ballpark hot dog with yellow mustard. Seriously. No cream cheese, no onions, no peppers. Time-tested satisfaction. Now, we can have a legitimate debate about gustatory preferences: French-fried potatoes with mayonnaise (Holland), with Dijon mustard (France), with curry ketchup (Germany, Italy), with sweet ketchup or even barbecue sauce (USA).

We can also make a list of classic food combinations that most Americans would agree on. Peanut butter and jelly, for example. Bacon and eggs. Cookies and milk. Mac & cheese. Ham & cheese. Some might add buffalo wings and blue cheese. New Yorkers go for lox, bagels & cream cheese. The Italians would opt for tomatoes and mozzarella, or prosciutto with melon, or biscotti dipped in Vin Santo.

So here's the latest fad, ramen pho, a noodle soup that (supposedly) combines the best elements of ramen and pho in one bowl. It sounded so intriguing: a pho beef broth that tastes like it's been injected with a steroid of salty pork fat, served with wheat noodles and topped with a soft-boiled egg, smoked pork belly, roasted brisket and the umami punch of enoki mushrooms and seaweed. Well, I had to try it.

We're not talking about "instant" (two-minute) ramen in cellophane wrappers, but real ramen served at lunch counters all over Japan and along the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Bellingham. I've had great ramen recently at Kizuki in West Seattle. I slurped a fine bowl at Ramen Champ in the Little Tokyo enclave of Los Angeles.

So let's shift over to pho. My favorite noodle soup in Seattle is Ba Bar's oxtail pho, which seems to extract every drop of flavor from the meaty bones.

Somehow, Eric got it into his head last year to try hybridizing ramen and pho. To create something like a cronut, in other words. (The cronut, a pastry "invented" by New York baker Dominique Ansel, combines elements of the croissant and the doughnut.) Now, ramen noodles are wheat-based and thickish, and served in a rich stock made with pork bones and flavor enhancers like dashi. Pho noodles, on the other hand. are made from rice; the fragrant beef broth is seasoned with star anise topped with aromatic basil leaves; the meat is thinly sliced beef occasionally augmented with tripe and tendon. They are the cheese and chalk, if you will, of Asian noodle soups.

Well, the $12 ramen pho combo served at Ba Bar comes topped with a clutch of enoki mushrooms and a savory hunk of nori (seaweed), some brisket, some smoked pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, and wheat noodles. How is that not ramen? It's a salty, meaty Asian soup; the only thing that makes it pho is that Well, the $12 ramen pho combo served at Ba Bar comes topped with a clutch of enoki mushrooms and a savory hunk of nori (seaweed), some brisket, some smoked pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, and wheat noodles. How is that not ramen? It's a salty, meaty Asian soup; the only thing that makes it pho is that it's served in a Vietnamese restaurant.

August/September 2018


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