Steam emitted from the decorative bowl of pho in faint wisps. Sliced onions and jalapenos floated atop the golden broth, softening their texture and imparting pungent flavors to the dish while bean sprouts and chopped cilantro mixed into a bed of noodles hidden at the bottom of the ornate bowl. It smelled delicious, but it wasn’t time to dig in just yet. Polly Seevanhsa, with the help of her boyfriend Josh Ronfeldt, needed to add the finishing touches.
With a pair of chopsticks and a large spoon, Polly added even more vegetables and a combination of fried onion, fried garlic, crushed peanuts, hoisin sauce and Sriracha. But before she could serve it, she needed a bit of a sweetness to balance the flavor of the pho.
“Josh!” she beckoned. “Can you get a little bit of sugar? Just a packet of sugar. I want to just put in a tiny bit. It sounds weird but it rounds out.”
After a few seconds, Josh returned to our table inside Marty’s Tap with a whole bag of sugar. Polly poured about a tablespoon of sugar into the bowl, maybe less. She didn’t use any measuring spoons, and I’d imagine if she was at home making pho she wouldn’t use any either. If you’ve been cooking and preparing pho for years like Polly has, you don’t need to. It’s all instinct at this point.
“Alright, now stir it up really good!” said Polly, eager for me to taste the final product.
Once all the ingredients were mixed together, the pho took on a whole new identity. The broth transformed from golden to orange and the aroma had greatly intensified. In front of me was a bowl of pho catered to my taste buds, something Marty’s Tap customers will know all too well this weekend. After all, it’s Sunday Pho-unday.
Polly and Josh are bringing back the event, which served about 90 bowls of pho to bar patrons in February. The couple prepared pots of the noodle soup to pour into sizable bowls, which could then be customized to fit the tastes of each individual person.
Polly has been making pho ever since she was a kid and it has remained a comfort food well into adulthood. She began making her own recipe by age 25, which she said is pretty close to what she remembered having with her family.
“And everybody tweaks their recipe a little bit,” she said. “Everybody has something different. I actually don’t like cinnamon that much but roasted cinnamon should go in the broth, so I keep it to a minimum.”
Polly also adds star anise, cardamom, brisket, sweet basil, sugar, black pepper and fish sauce to her broth – the most important aspect of any pho recipe. When cooked properly, pho should take about four to six hours to make. The finished product is considered a base for everyone else to include their own spices and additives like meat, greens, sauces etc.
Everyone prepares pho differently. Josh prefers a spicy bowl with large amounts of beef paste paired with a hefty helping of veggies. Polly wants it all – sweet, salt, sour and super-hot.
“Everybody’s bowl is different and that’s the beauty of it,” said Polly.
In addition to being a comfort food that the whole family can enjoy, Polly and Josh said pho makes an excellent hangover food. Ditch the tacos and burgers – this couple needs a hearty bowl of pho.
“I need broth and noodles!” said Polly.
“You can make it real hot and spicy and just sweat it out,” Josh added.
So it only makes sense to have Sunday Pho-unday at a bar. Josh and Polly get to extend their Sunday “hangover cure” tradition to Siouxlanders and maybe even broaden their tastes.
“It gives so many people that would never ever try this in a million years the opportunity to try it,” said Josh.
And for those that are apprehensive about trying something new, the couple is more than willing to help them out. In fact, the first time Josh and Polly debuted Sunday Pho-unday at Marty’s Tap, they came across quite a few patrons that didn’t think to add extra vegetables and sauces to their bow.
“People would go, ‘Well, I’m just going to stay away from it,’” said Polly. “And I literally walked up to people I knew that were eating, and I looked at their bowl and stick my spoon in their bowl and say, ‘Let me just season it for you.’ Whenever we’d have a break, I’d started seasoning others’ bowls and people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh! Season my bowl, too!’”
And she always agreed to do so.
“Because I want them to enjoy it as much as they possibly can."