Pho and Butchering in Nashville

February 1, 2010

To further enjoy the rare snow shower in Nashville, I decided to make a big pot of pho, the classic Vietnamese soup.  My thinking: the aroma of the broth’s anise, charred onion and ginger, and cinnamon would pcozy up the house.  And the hearty pot would feed us for days, in case we didn’t feel like trudging very far in the snow.  Hungry friends who found their way to Chez Vu would also find some comfort in the soup’s warmth.  However, making a beef soup from scratch in Nashville always presents a problem:  where to get the beef bones.  (But before discussing this quandary, a picture of the soup.)

It’s already difficult enough buying quality meats in town, but it’s nearly impossible to buy bones, even chicken bones, for soup.  If meats are being processed for Nashville, where are all the bones?  Why not sell them?  Is everything processed in remote locations that make it too costly to ship the bones (which means not very fresh meats)?  Or is this symptomatic of both Nashville’s cooking habits (demand) and the state of our city’s butchering (supply)?  Or is there some unknown reason why grocery stores don’t sell bones?

The problems of purchasing soup bones derive from the evolution of butchering in Nashville.  First, small butcher shops have become extinct.  Anecdotal stories we’ve heard attribute this to big-chain grocery stores arriving in the ’50s and 60s.  They aggressively low-balled their meats to price out independent butchers.  Nashville’s last attempt at old-school, neighborhood-feel butchering seems to have been Todd’s Butcher Shop on Charlotte.  It closed in 2008.  The big-box grocery stores still sell meats packaged elsewhere, with no bones to be found in the back.  The same can be said of the newcomer Trader Joe’s.  The other new grocer on the Nashville block, Whole Foods, has butchers working in the back–slicing and dicing the meat, but alas no bones are sold, even when asked.

On Nolenvsille and Charlotte Pke are halal markets that offer mutton, lamb, chicken (fresh and at great prices)–but no beef bones (chicken bones yes).  There are also the K&S outposts on both of these roads, and they do have the bones I’m looking for.  But they’re always frozen and brown, with their packaging ripped, and thus they’re coated in crystallized frost–all of which makes me question the quality.  (Some connoisseurs insist that ox tails are the secret ingredient to pho.  In this case, K&S would be the place in town to go.)

More recently, there have been meat vendors at the Farmers’ Market.  These folks raise their own cows, chickens, and pigs sustainably and free-range.   They offer beef bones upon request–often under the misnomer “dog bones.”  The prices are steep–which I don’t mind.  But too often the flavoring is not as rich as I’d like them, and even more difficult, the bones are not cut properly by the processors.  The same can be said for the underutilized “eye round” cut/roast.  (When you order the fresh/raw meat version of pho, this is the cut most often used.)  The eye round cuts that I’ve bought from different vendors have been hacked up in all different kinds of ways.  This option is too frustrating and expensive.

All this is to say that I have little choice but to buy pho bones from Whole Foods–at a compromise of $7/lb for short ribs (x 3 lbs.).  Already too expensive, these bones don’t have the marrow which would add that special flavoring to the pot.

We need more bones in this town!


7 Responses to “Pho and Butchering in Nashville”

  1. instead of local grocery markets, try to find a kosher meat market…surely they must still exists..good luck on your quest!!!

  2. pickledandfried Says:

    But alas, there are no kosher butchers in Nashville. You can buy kosher meats from lateral freezers in a basement, but that’s too far out there for us.

  3. ulika Says:

    have you tried the butcher block in cool springs? or there is always C&F Meats in triune

  4. pickledandfried Says:

    Thanks, Ulika, for the tip. If we’re in Cool Springs, we’ll take a look at C&F Meats.

  5. NoGluten Says:

    how’d it go with C&F meats?

  6. Jay Says:

    Try using flanken cut ribs instead of short ribs. Less bone, more marrow.

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