Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Pho of Vietnam

The very first meal we had in Vietnam was pho.  I know it's obvious.  But it was so easy to eat everyday - pho is an anytime meal:  breakfast, lunch, dinner, the giant vats of beautiful pho broth cook from early morning to night supplying everyone with infinite noodle deliciousness.

He's barely taller than the pot !

Our absolute favorite and most beloved spot in Hanoi was located at 49 Bat Dan called Pho Gia Truyen.

49 Bat Dan serves a couple of types of pho, the first is brisket and raw beef, and the second is just raw beef.  The brisket hangs on hooks next to the assembly cart - grisly fat entangled in the beef.

Never a fan of brisket, we went straight for the raw beef.  Money is exchanged upfront, $1.25/bowl, and then you watch your bowl created: one gentleman pulls a handful of noodles into the bowl and tops the tangle with an assembly of herbs - scallions and coriander.  Another gentleman is responsible for reaching into the vat of pho, simmering away in the restaurant's alley, to ladle the broth carefully into the bowl.

Raw beef is scooped into the ladle, cooked briefly in the soup pot, and released, semi-cooked, into the bowl, and into the eager hands of eaters.  You then have to carefully balance your bowl back to your seat.  (Bring a companion and have them hold seats while you grab the food.)

The table has a jar of chopsticks, a container of fiery diced red chilis, and a jar of vinegar.  A spoonful of red chilis tops the whole dish off perfectly.  Nothing else.  No plate of basil, bean sprouts and jalapeno.  None of that nonsense.  You have all you need right here.

The pho in Hanoi is more subtle and refined compared to its Saigon counterpart (the type usually served in the US), and is simple and unadorned - just beautiful.  And it tasted just as good the next five times we visited as well.

We did branch out to try Pho Thin, a Hanoi pho spot noted for its more generous portion of meat, and the flavor imbued with the restaurant precooking the beef beforehand makes for a heartier bite.

The pho at Pho Ly Quoc Su was also fine, but probably the most laden with MSG, with the boxes of monosodium glutamate so openly stacked up to the ceiling in the dining room.

I do recommend trying some of the quay (fried crullers) with the pho because it's something I've never had, and it's surprisingly fun.  The crullers soak up the pho but still remain crisp!

Nothing quite topped Pho Gia Truyen in Hanoi though.  It was pure pho-fection.

By the time we got to Saigon and headed to their most famous spot, Pho Hoa Pasteur, in District 3, we already missed Hanoi, but Saigon's quickly grew on us as well.

The broth is darker here, and is lightened up well with the fresh plate of greens - lots of variety to adorn your dish with !

The iced coffee is also superb (though you can get superb Vietnamese iced coffee anywhere because they understand the right ratio of condensed milk to coffee here - a lot of condensed milk : a little bit of coffee !).

Outside of Pho Hoa, you can also grab a couple great snacks.  The coconut jelly, served in a young coconut shell, is so light and delicious.

My favorite is the coconut cream collected at the top, so it's best to try to ration it out for the clear jelly below if you want to not eat just plain jelly for ten minutes after.

(Which is probably not the worst thing to ever happen to you.)

We also tried one of the banh baos - the steamed pork buns.  You don't really know how fresh any of these are, but once the case opens, a huge waft of steam is released, and somehow, the buns are piping hot and perfect!

Big as my head, the bun is soft and airy, the pork filling flavorful and moist, and comes with a couple quail eggs.  Both snacks came out to like $1.  God (Buddha) bless Vietnam.

Pho Gia Truyen
49 Bat Dan

Pho Thin
13 Pho Lo Duc

Pho Ly Quoc Su

Pho Hoa Pasteur
260C Pasteur
District 3
Ho Chi Minh City


  1. Must eat pho nowwwwwww! Too beautiful.

  2. image wise looking yummy recipes.i want to eagerly eat these recipes.Let me know thai restaurant location where is it