WHEN you're biting into a hamburger, there's an intricate art at play.
A perfect combination of a soft bun, the right ratio of pattie and a subtle balance with flavours.
It's the same concept with a steaming bowl of pho, or Vietnamese noodles.
Like the Americans with their favourite, the Vietnamese cling to their national dish with a sense of pride.
There are many variations from different parts of the country.
The northern version of the broth is clearer than the south, and while those in the north prefer to add more seasoning to the soup, their southern neighbours like a sweeter variation.
The origin of where this meal came from can be traced back to the late 1800s during French colonisation.
Some claim pho's ancestry is from the French classic stew pot-au-feu, where roasted onion adds some extra brown colouring.
History also had a hand in the dish. In 1952, under the Geneva Accords, Vietnam was split into two.
Those northerners fleeing the communist regime went south taking their pho culture with them.
I recently returned to my parents' homeland for work. When I ordered a steaming bowl of what felt like home, I was shocked to find the meaty affair a disappointment.
Here in Australian pho restaurants, we're spoiled with a multitude of options to personalise our bowls. Raw beef. Cooked beef. Tendon. Tripe. Meatballs.
But in Vietnam this is a luxury: if you're low on money, you order a less-expensive bowl without meat.
Shaking off my Western privilege, I approached someone who has gained a reputation with home-made pho.
My cousin-in-law's mother generously offered to share her knowledge of a recipe she's taken decades to master.
Like a true professional, her desire to remain anonymous makes the dish even more enticing.
The key is in the broth. When we served our family of 15, almost two kilograms of beef bones and beef ribs were used.
Ask your local Asian butcher for a "long leg"; this way, you get the knee and joints in all its splendour.
And make sure you clean the bones thoroughly in water to ensure the broth isn't too oily. Boil the bones before it goes in the pot.
You'll need water, salt, ginger, onion, star anise and a little MSG for the soup. Before you add the ginger and onion, chargrill first.
Then peel off the burnt skin and add it to the broth.
The tricky part is perseverance. You must cook it for several hours, carefully, scooping out the oil for a cleaner flavour.
Serve noodles with the premade broth, slices of beef, bean sprouts, mint, lemon and hoi sin dipping sauce.