The Allston neighborhood of Boston–which I happen to live right near though not in–is more often than not ridiculed as a college slum. It is affectionately called Allston Rock City because of its music scene and do it yourself house shows and Allston Rat City, well, because there sure are a lot of rats come trash day.
I will concede that there are more than a lot of college kids in the heart of Allston. Harvard Avenue, the main drag filled with food, bars, and cheap furniture stores, fills up on most nights with college kids in every direction. The trolley or T that runs out to the neighborhood is notoriously slow and glutted with students. Then there’s the crowding into apartments and subsequent waste that accumulates every time a semester or lease ends. On September first it’s even called Allston Christmas since on every corner a mountainous pile of futons, cheap lamps, and discarded couches grows dangerously high in a mere 24-hour period as college kids either move out, move in, or simply start new somewhere else in the city. (Be wary of taking something you find on the street. There are rules to Allston.)
But despite all this, I have to admit it I actually love Allston, because below the surface, there is so much culinary flavor and cheap eats, how could I not come to love the place? There are at least two shabu shabu restaurants, the kind that serve big portions for low prices, blocks away from each other. There is middle eastern, sushi, Korean BBQ and Fried chicken, Salvadorean, VEgan pizza, and Nepalese to name a few and bars with more craft beer than is humanly possible to try (two of which were named by Draft Magazine as part of the 100 best beer bars in America!) I dislike the constant ragging on Allston as a college-this or college-that because it obscures the fact that thriving immigrant communities live and make Allston interesting too. At a point making fun of and trashing the neighborhood as a result of it’s college reputation seems to close to trashing on the other people that live there.
The crowning jewel of my love for Allston is the Super 88 grocery store and food court (or is a Hong Kong supermarket now? The sign still hasn’t changed.) It’s part pan-asian supermarket and part pan-asian food court. Mostly, it is all awesome. In the food court side, you’ve got everything from Hong Kong style dim sum to Northern Indian take out to Koream bimbimbap. My favorite is the Vietnamese counter, where you can get massive bowls of pho bo and pho ga for under 10 dollars. If you feel inspired by the tastes of the food court the grocery store has everything under the sun you may need to recreate the cuisines of Asia. I’ve spent so many lazy sundays in the Super 88, waiting out the harsh Boston winters with bowsl of pho or tracking down that final ingredients for a new recipe. Galangal ginger! Purple basil! Thai chilies! Oh my.
So when I finally decided to a try making a version of pho ga at home, Vietnamese chick noodle soup in my over simplification of this immensely popular national dish, it seemed only right to dedicate the effort to Allston in all it’s rough-and-tumble glory. Firstly, because my love of pho is born of my time at the Super 88, my Allston go-to. Secondly, because I’m always thankful to I can hop on a bus and appreciate the little extras the neighborhood has, experiencing it underneath the empty stereotypes. And lastly because homemade pho seems a perfect way to honor a section of the city where everything comes crashing at once, from college kids to rock shows in basements to hardworking immigrants to cheap eats from all over the world. It’s not about making the most authentic pho, or finding the best in the city, its just about the process.
I like you just the way you are Allston, rats and all. (Okay, maybe fewer rats would be better for everyone…)
Quick Homemade Pho Ga
For the Broth:
1/2 white onion
1 3 inch chunk of ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 star anise pods
fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon
1 cinnamon stick
8 cups of chicken broth
1 small bunch of cilantro, washed
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (or to taste)
2-3 cups of water
1 whole skinless and boneless chicken breast. Mine was around 1.5 pounds of breast meat.
1 lb of noodles
mint, roughly torn
basil, roughly torn
quarters of lime
thinly sliced red onions
1. In a broil safe pan (like a cast iron skillet) brown the peeled ginger and onion until beginning to blacken, around 10 minutes. Peel away any burnt areas.
2. Toast the coriander seeds, the anise pods, fennel seeds, and cinnamon stick in a deep stock pot until just fragrant. Be careful not to burn.
3. Add the chicken broth, onion, ginger, 1 small bunch of cilantro (stem and leaves), and the fish sauce to the stock pot with the toasted spices. Bring to boil. Add the chicken breast. Reduce to just below a boil. Poach the chicken for around 20 minutes until cooked. Remove and shred.
4. While the chicken is poaching cook the rice noodles according to the package.
5. The Pho Ga stock may have reduced now by some. Taste and adjust for taste. You may want to add another 2-3 cups of water. Once ready, remove from heat.
6. Strain the chicken broth in a fine mesh colander. I found lining the colander with a paper towel helped catch any small spices that may have broken down while simmering.
7. Divide the broth into bowls. Add noodles, shredded chicken, and then top to your fancy.
8. Store leftovers in separate containers so you can quickly reassemble for another meal!