I gave up Top Ramen in my late teens, during the fat-phobic years, when those news reports hit about how unhealthy it really was. Since that time, instant soups haven’t even come onto my radar. I whiz by them in the grocery store without so much as turning my head to look for sales.
However, I received an email not too long ago about free samples from Original Pho, and couldn’t resist checking them out. I am still a sucker for all food Asian … and low and behold, this brand of instant noodle soups was free from MSG, low in fat, and it contained a pretty legible ingredient statement. Mind you, there were a couple of ingredients that I know are not on the top of the healthy food list, and that could be considered processed, but with no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn syrup, and no MSG, we were off to a good start. So, I ordered up a pack, and a giant tube housing two of each flavor arrived on my doorstep.
I must admit the packaging is rather clever. I am not a fan of individually packaged servings due to the waste but they do their best by using a corrugated plastic (PP5) cup (rather than Styrofoam) with a sealable lid that is environmentally friendly, reuseable (I have in fact been using mine for bulk foods storage), microwave safe, and “great for keeping your soup warm.” That last part is beyond true, more on that later. There is actually a little foldable fork within each cup, along with little packages of rice noodles and seasonings.
Really, preparation couldn’t have been much simpler. Put the kettle on to boil, empty the little packages into the cup while you are waiting, add water, close lid for three minutes, and … wait! Don’t eat yet. Yes, it is ready, but oh my goodness does the insulation work! Even my husband’s heat resistant mouth was burned on first bite. There was the dilemma. It stayed so hot that the noodles were a bit overdone by the time it was ready to eat. For myself, the solution was to add three ice cubes after the three minutes were up, to stop the cooking and make it ready to eat instantly.
On their website, Original Pho describes their product as “a new integration of traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup and typical instant noodle soup cups.” While the flavoring is more Americanized than what you might find at a Vietnamese noodle house, I tend to agree with their description for the most part. Each cup contained a generous amount of those nice wide rice noodles, a well-flavored broth with just a touch of spice for a very warm and comforting lunch with little effort. It tasted oh-so-close to homemade soup.
At this point, I had to read more to find out what was in it. Hmm, lots of sodium, to be expected … but wait … I scanned the ingredients over several times and I believe, though I can’t verify some of those obscure ingredients, that these noodle cups are vegan! Yes, even the beef flavored pho. Ah yes, the flavors. There are four in fact:
Savory Chicken: This was our first choice to trial, as it seemed the safest. There seemed to be small bits of savory chicken in it, which I later discovered were actually TVP (textured vegetable protein). I added frozen peas to mine during the “cooking” process, which ended up helping with the cooling. I liked the way I could add in items that needed only light cooking. My husband loved it, and I thought it was pretty darn tasty and surprisingly filling also.
Traditional Beef: This second trial was when I discovered the vegan nature of these cups. In this soup I could tell that there was something different about the texture of the meaty slices. They were a bit soft and chewy, and not really beef-like … because they were in fact TVP! I would have preferred more dehydrated veggies, but then again, I am not a big beef or faux-beef fan. However, I do love beef broth, there is something so much more bold and comforting about it … and this no-meat broth definitely fit the bill, with a little help from some artificial vegan flavors of course. Delicious! I added some chopped savoy cabbage just before adding the boiling water, which was a very nice touch with the flavor.
Garden Vegetable: The vegetable soup was similar to the first two, but obviously with a vegetable broth flare. I was expecting a few more veggies, which was my only disappointment. I would have added my own had I known, but I assumed this selection would have a few more dehydrated veggies than the meaty variety. Instead, it was the same format, with the flavoring, a few dehydrated veggies and some TVP. I would like to see them skip the meat analog and stay true to name on this one. Otherwise, it was equally delicious and enjoyed.
Succulent Seafood: Having learned my lesson, I once again added some chopped savoy cabbage just before adding the boiling water, and it worked out well! For me, the addition of some more vegetables made these cups a real meal. Since I don’t recall having a seafood broth prior, I can’t compare the flavor, but it was quite good.
Overall, I really enjoyed Original Pho, with the beef flavor earning top merits from both my husband and I, followed closely by the chicken flavor. You can order Original Pho direct from their website, www.originalpho.com for a very fair price. I am not sure if it is sold in stores at this time, but hopefully it will be soon. This is one of those products that I would love to see added to the convenience store line-up. I could only imagine my joy if I saw a cup of soup from Original Pho when on a road trip and starving for real food!