Super G and the secret of pho broth

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The secret to pho is in the broth.

by Brian Clarey

The residents of Guilford County speak more than 100 languages among them. That fact alone is astounding, and a little hard to believe.

But it’s true: We’ve got Montagnards, Koreans and Thais from Southeast Asia; a pantheon of citizens of Middle Eastern descent; a flourishing Eastern European contingent; Africans from the west, north and central parts of the continent; Latinos flying every flag.

And they all come together at the Super G.

The international grocery anchors the FantaCity pedestrian mall on West Market Street, itself designed as a hub for the city’s growing international community a decade ago. Turnover has been high in some of the storefronts — current residents include Bollywood Fashions, a taquería and carnicería, a Vietnamese coffee shop and places with signs in Korean and, I think, Hindi, that I am unable to meaningfully translate. Many have come and gone, but Super G remains.

That’s because it may be the best grocery store I’ve ever been to: a kinetic storeroom for everything you can’t find anywhere else — or if you can, it’s cheaper and more plentiful. I have never seen so many dragonfruit at once in my life as I did on my last stop, a bushel of the scaly succulent, sitting right there with a dozen varieties of plums.

The produce section is a lesson in exotic flora: a wall of yam varieties, two different kinds of fresh taro, dozens of peppers, a score of herbs I’ve never heard of. There are whole fish, live crabs, a row dedicated to seaweed and like a dozen varieties of that aloe drink I’ve been buying. Japanese candy. Congolese snack food. Mexican sodas.

A visit to the Super G is a trip around the world. The aisles teem with families speaking French Creole, Farsi and other tongues I cannot discern.

And if you’re cooking something international, this is the place to go for supplies.

I was of a mind for pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup with fresh herbs that I usually get in restaurants. Previous efforts to recreate the experience at home have been… inadequate.

Then I started going to Super G. I get the sprouts, jalapeños, Thai basil, cilantro and other veggies for a fraction of what I’d been paying in the mainstream grocery. As for noodles, I can choose from a whole wall of them. I stick with rice noodles, though my technique with them still sucks.

And at Super G, I learned the secret of the broth.

Pho is a beef soup, and if my vegetarian wife weren’t eating it I’d get down with the oxtail, simmer it down all day and have at it. For this recipe I used a Thai beef base. But pho broth has a unique flavor profile. I’d been using a bullion-cube spice blend made specifically for pho, added directly to standard broth. But I discovered another product that has elevated the final result to meet my own standards, at least.

It’s a spice blend that comes in a teabag: star anise, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, giving the broth a lot of its heat. I bubble it in the stock for 20 minutes.

I’ve got the broth down. My next hurdle is the noodle, adapting the technique for a family-style dinner. Rice noodles get sticky.

Maybe I need to try a different kind of noodle. And while I’m at it, I should probably pick up a couple dragonfruit.