Pho is everywhere. The piping hot, spice-laden broth filled with noodles, various meats and garnishes has become the darling of Asian soups and for good reason. When prepared right it's transcendent. But don't let its ubiquity pigeon-hole you into a Pho-only rut. Throw your palate a change-up and head to Korea House on Royal, and confidently order Mae woon tang.
My waitress asked several times if I was sure, if I liked fish, and if I liked spicy flavors. "You like really spicy?" she asked again. "Bring the chili pain train," I replied, patting my stomach to accentuate my enthusiasm. I'd never have ordered the dish if I hadn't seen a heavy-set old man hunched over the soup as I walked in. He fussed over a steaming stone bowl with a smorgasbord of condiments laid out at his disposal -- fish cakes, pickles, cabbage and other vegetables.
My soup arrived, boiling hot, literally bubbling and belching steam. It was spicy but manageable. Half way through my meal a slight tack appeared on my forehead. My eyelids sweat. It was perfect. Beyond spice, the soup had an amazing and robust flavor that was clean, not at all fishy, and satisfying. I used my chopsticks to hunt for large chunks of fish (watch for bones), huge mussels and tiny clams.
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After I'd finished most of the solids, I dumped an entire bowl of rice in the delicious broth that remained -- and that's when shit got real. I shoveled at it glutinously. Spoonful after spoonful of rice, not over cooked, suspended in a spicy brine. It was the most satisfying dish I've had in a long time.