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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beef Pho inspired by The Frangipani Hotel

Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) inspired by The Frangipani Hotel - book tour
I've always loved the chill that hearing or reading ghost stories and urban legends gives me. My body literally shakes and tears involuntarily roll from the corners of my eyes, but I love every minute of it. The fact that they translate best when the air is murky and dark doesn't hurt. A bit of those feelings set in as I read short stories within The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith.

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of stories revolving around Vietnamese culture, in some form or another. Some are haunting. Some make you think. Others leave you wondering what in the heck you just read. All hint at a bit of the supernatural. Kupersmith managed to weave humor and terror equally well into these cultural tales. And guess what else she did (because you know I can't help but look for it)? She successfully wove food and eating into the stories. But I'm not surprised, because I do think that food is an essential inclusion when spinning tales steeped in culture, history, and human emotion.

This book contains 9 stories, each of which I enjoyed for what it was. Looking back, however, I'm not surprised that ones that I remember best were the ones that contained food as a main element. At least that's how I saw them. Reception, Skin and Bones, and The Red Veil were my 3 favorites. They were definitely the most foodcentric. Following close behind were Little Brother and Guests; both also had food involved. I don't purposefully do it, I naturally gravitate towards the foodie aspect of anything.

There was all sorts of inspiration to draw from when choosing a dish to tie into this book. From papayas to octopus, from chocolate cake to fish and rice, from hot pork buns to steamed pork intestines...there was even mention of cornbread, okra, and lemon meringue pie. But really, for me, it came down to two things: Bánh mì and Phở.
Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) inspired by The Frangipani Hotel
The Bánh mì almost won out. Skin and Bones made an extremely persuasive case. My mouth was literally watering right along with Thuy's (our main character from this story). I even had an inkling of what was going on in this tale from the start, but it ended by sending chills and shivers up my spine. Plus, the last few pages sort of makes you lose your hunger. But in an oh-so-creepy, bone-chattering way!

So, I went back to Reception and the dream that our main character from this story, Phi, has about phở. Here is the excerpt that inspired the bowl of soup that I'm sharing today:

"Take over reception for a little bit," I say to him, and sneak into the first-floor room for a quick nap. The air-conditioning is broken again, but I fall asleep and a minute later I'm dreaming. Dreaming about soup. My Bai Noi and I are sitting on the red plastic stools at the phở stall down the street with big steaming bowls of the stuff on the table between us. I stir the soup with my chopsticks and she blows on hers to cool it off. But she blows too hard and bits of broth splash my face. The droplets should be scalding, but they are cool instead.

 "Hey. Stop that," I say. But she just laughs and blows on her bowl again so that the phở splashes me more. Stop that! Splash. Stop that! Splash. I mean it! Splash.

So, overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think that it will appeal to foodies, fans of short stories and fiction, fans of Asian-American culture and history, and also those who are into the supernatural, ghost stories, and urban legends. It's an easy and enjoyable read - especially when it's dark all around you and the covers are pulled up to your chin!

Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)
A comforting bowl of Vietnamese Noodle Soup.
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Beef Pho
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Keywords: simmer soup/stew dairy-free nut-free beef pasta Vietnamese

Ingredients (serves 2)
    for the broth
    • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 2 ounces lean beef (like sirloin)
    • sea salt
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 1 tiny onion, peeled & halved
    • 1 (2") knob of ginger, unpeeled & halved lengthwise
    • 3 cups homemade beef or rich chicken stock (the kind so thick it looks like jelly)
    • 3 whole star anise
    • 1 (2" piece) cinnamon stick
    • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    • a couple dashes of fish sauce
    everything else
    • 4 ounces rice noodles
    • 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
    • 1 tiny carrot, very thinly sliced on the bias
    • 1 small hot chile pepper, such as serrano, jalapeño, or bird's eye, thinly sliced
    • handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
    • few fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
    • few fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
    • spicy chili sauce, optional
    • hoisin sauce, optional
    Set a medium pot over high heat and add the oil. Sprinkle the beef with a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the meat and sear on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. When cool enough to handle, thinly slice it against the grain.

    Turn heat down to medium, then add the halved ginger knob and onion to the pot and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the stock, star anise, cinnamon, and black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Strain broth, discarding solids. Pour the broth back into the pot, add the fish sauce. Hold warm.

    In the meantime, cook the noodles according to package instructions (usually 2-4 minutes). Drain and set aside.

    To serve, add the noodles to the bottom of 2 bowls. Divide the beef over the noodles. Add all (or any combination) of the remaining ingredients to the bowl, then carefully ladle the hot broth over and around. Enjoy!
    Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) inspired by The Frangipani Hotel - book tour

    The Franginpani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith - book tour

    The Frangipani Hotel
    author: Violet Kupersmith
    publisher: Spiegel & Grau
    genre: Literature & Fiction / Short Stories / Asian American
    source: tlc book tours
    hard cover: 256 pages

    "foodie" read: Maybe not in the traditional sense, but definitely filled with enough food that I would consider it a "mild" foodie read.

    random excerpt: But then she caught another whiff and there was no mistaking it: bread. Hot, fresh bread, with the hint of something savory underneath. She closed her eyes, lifted her nose in the air, and for a full three minutes, she sniffed. When she opened them again, she knew that she needed to find the source of it, needed to with an urgency that she had never experienced in her fifteen years. (p. 65)

    synopsis (from tlc book tours page): A self-assured and stunning collection by an astonishingly gifted new writer, these stories—based on traditional Vietnamese tales—are sure to appeal to fans of Karen Russell, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, George Saunders, and Téa Obrecht. The Frangipani Hotel blends the old world and the new with fantastical, chilling, and original explorations of the ghosts that continue to haunt us: those of the Vietnam War.

    about the author: Violet Kupersmith graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 and then spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright teaching fellowship. She is currently at work on a novel.

    further info: website | facebook | twitter

    recipe inspired by the book: Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

    The publisher has generously offered up another copy of the Frangipani Hotel to one of my readers. Would you love a little escape into the chilling world created by Violet Kupersmith in these collected stories? If so, enter below.

    How to enter:
    (mandatory) Leave a comment* on this post answering this question: What is your favorite Vietnamese dish, or one that you would like to try?
    *After you've left your comment, record it in the rafflecopter widget.

    (optional) More entries will be unlocked once you've completed the mandatory entry.
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    This contest is open to residents of the USA only. Submissions will be accepted through 11:59 pm ET on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

    All entries will be verified. If you do not complete the mandatory entry, all optional entries will be null and void. I will draw one name at random from eligible entries within 48 hours of the close of this contest. An email will be sent to the winner requesting shipping information for the book, and a response is required within 24 hours of the time the email is sent. If no response is received, a new winner will be drawn from eligible entries. If none of the entries follow the rules, there will be no winner.

    I received a free copy of this book from the publisher to read and review. All opinions stated in this post are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.