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Two Ways to Have Your Pho

6 whole star anise, 3 sticks cinnamon, 1 tablespoon cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns and 8 whole cloves

1 small piece rock sugar* (may substitute 2 teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar)

Pho 75 restaurateur Le Thiep with his chicken pho. (Mark Finkenstaedt For The Washington Post)

Traditional Components

The specific ingredients for a proper pho can be gathered from many supermarkets. But a Vietnamese or Asian grocery store will offer an extensive selection of cuts of beef, produce items and an entire aisle of Asian noodles. Here are some important components of pho:

Pho noodles, also called "rice sticks," are labeled banh in Vietnamese. They come in varying sizes but the kind most commonly served in pho restaurants has the thickness of thin spaghetti. Rice noodles can be purchased dried or fresh in the Asian section of most supermarkets. Star anise, so-called because it is shaped like an eight-pointed star, is the dried seed pod of the star anise flower. It tastes much like anise, only more intense.

Chinese rock sugar is sold in chunks and has a complex flavor that results from a combination of sugars and honey.

Another traditional component of authentic pho is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. MSG has the effect of brightening flavors already present in foods. Americans have long been distrustful of the seasoning, fearing it caused adverse reactions ranging from headaches to chest pain. After commissioning an independent study in 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that MSG was a "safe food ingredient for most people when eaten at customary levels." People with severe, poorly controlled asthma, or those with "MSG symptom complex" -- intolerance to MSG when eaten in large quantities -- may be affected by the flavor enhancer, the FDA said. The federal agency, in its labeling requirements, says that any monosodium glutamate used as an ingredient in food shall be declared by its common or usual name.

-- Ed Bruske

2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam)

For the assembled pho:

1 pound (16 ounces) rice noodles

2 pounds raw beef (such as top round, flank steak, chuck, brisket) OR reserved brisket from the broth

Cooked tendon (optional; reserved from broth)

1 medium yellow onion, peeled

1 bunch scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced on a diagonal

About 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Plate of Thai basil sprigs

Plate of fresh bean sprouts

Plate of sliced green chili peppers (jalapeño or serrano)

Red chili sauce (such as Tuong Ot Sriracha)

Hoisin sauce

For the broth: Place beef bones in a large, heavy pot or stock pot. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes; a bubbly gray scum should form on top of the liquid. Drain the water, rinse the bones in the kitchen sink and clean the pot. (This removes the loose protein that normally would collect on the surface of the broth as scum.)

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