Bull Penis Soup (Pho Nguyen Hue)
On those brisk fall days when you think to yourself, “A nice bowl of bull penis soup would be good right about now,” you need look no further than Westminster, California. Since the calf-making part of the ox (as I’ve learned is the proper name for the animal we call “cow”, regardless of sex) was one of the few I had not tried, I decided to find out for myself what I was missing.
Unless you decide you want to risk grandma walking in and having a heart attack while you concoct this brew on the stove, start entry level at a Vietnamese restaurant. The section of Westminster called “Little Saigon” seemed like the logical place to start, but which restaurant? Most food adventurers and local reviews pointed to a single place – Pho Nguyen Hue. The restaurant itself is in an unassuming storefront with plain round tables and metal chairs, with not much in the way of decoration, more closely resembling a VFW hall than a restaurant. The first thing I notice is that I’m the only Caucasian in the place, walking in like the Delta seniors into the roadhouse on “Animal House”. Generally, I view this as a good sign.
I was told to sit anywhere I liked and was presented with a menu. The recommended dish is Pho Pin Xe Lua (which I had written on a piece of paper), but I couldn’t find it on the menu. I showed the waiter the paper and asked if he had Pin Xe Lua and was told he would give me an embellished “number 12” (possibly another good sign when ordering bull penis soup). The #12 phở normally comes with beef tendon, rare flank steak and beef tripe, but my special order included the bull’s personality. He asked if I wanted anything else, but my imagination can’t envision what would go with that.
A short while later the waiter returned with a hot, steaming bowl of bull parts and noodles. A bad pho can ruin a virgin food experience, but the broth smelled wonderful, the meat was cooked to perfection and the noodles weren’t under or over cooked. I worked my way into it, trying some noodles, the other cuts of beef and thought that the number 12 would be good on its own. But business is business and it was time to address the bull penis (“Hello, Mr. Bull Penis!”). The first thing I noticed was that the various pieces had varying textures (you didn’t think they were going to bring a bowl of soup with a Tower of Pisa sticking out of it, did you?) Some bits were crunchy and chewy, much like the white cartilage you find between joints on a chicken leg; other pieces were fatty and dissolved with very little effort. Neither had much flavor on their own, but seemed to borrow it from the other ingredients in the bowl.
Was it good? Well, I finished the bowl. Would I go out of my way to have it again? Let’s just say I’m not warming up the car any time in the foreseeable future. Would I have it again if I find myself in the appropriate situation? You bet. As Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser sang (with the bull’s cow bell ringing in his ear), “Don’t fear the Pin Xe Lua…”
Pho Nguyen Hue
10487 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
GPS coordinates: 33°44’44.02″N 117°56’48.43″W