One of my favorite Vietnamese meals is Bo 7 mon or “7 courses of beef” can be found in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown at Pho Hoa II. Although the menu reads that the meal can feed two people, it can easily be eaten amongst three. This is not your normal pho, but more for special occasions such as weddings. Though Pho Hoa II has undergone some renovations due to a fire not long ago, their new look is nice. A large fish tank livens up the dining room along with the dark wood tables and chairs.
You will quickly find out that big table space is needed, when an array of dishes are brought out. First off are the two dipping sauces, one is the usual nuoc mam (fish sauce) and the other is a bit strong and pungent, anchovy or fermented bean based sauce-not for the faint hearted! Of course there is plenty of chili sauce readily available if you need a kick. A big heaping plate of herbs, along with slices of cucumber, apple, carrot and daikon (radish) as well as lettuce leaves along and bean sprouts are given. A big, steaming bowl of hot water is given to be used for dipping the provided round, thin, rice wrappers and a plate of vermicelli noodles. Diners may wrap their own their own rolls with these ingredients and the beef.
To make a roll, first take one rice paper wrapper. Quickly dip it in the hot water for a few seconds. Then lay down the desired ingredients and beef. I love the herbs and veggies, but I go easy on the vermicelli. Roll it once, then grab each side and bring them to the center and tuck to roll again. Don’t put too much food into your wrapper! Then dip into your desired dipping sauce and enjoy. The crunchy, fresh vegetables along with the flavorful beef slices combined with the nuoc mam is simply delicious!
The first courses is the beef salad (goi bo) which consists of thin beef strips mixed with pickled celery, daikon, cucumber, and carrot served with a nuoc mam dressing. Then the next three courses are served together, (bo la lot ) the grilled beef encased by a lolot leaf (la lot –similar to a grape leaf used in Mediterranean cooking) as well as (bo cha dum) a big meatball mixed with vermicelli then quartered served with crispy shrimp chips. The combination of the lolot leaf and the grilled beef is flavorful and delicious. Another course is a plate of thinly sliced raw beef is served with either lime or lemon slices to be squeezed onto the beef.
Next is a plate of sliced raw beef topped with onion slices to be cooked in a broth (bo nhung dam) which you wait to be heated up. Once bubbling, one quickly dips the onion and beef slices til cooked. Next up is the butter sautéed beef slices sprinkled with fragrant lemon grass bits. Last but not least is the beef congee (rice soup) (chao bo) which is a tasty and satisfying finale to a wonderful culinary journey.
Of course, Pho Hoa II has a extensive full menu with all your usual Vietnamese favorites. If you don’t like beef, you can have the fish alternative called Ca 7 Mon.
Anna Ing is a Sampan contributor.
Pho Hoa II
17 Beach Street
Boston, MA 02111