Phở, (pronounced more like fur) is one of, if not the most well known food of Vietnam. Famous as a backpacker staple, a ‘must see’ food and a essential ingredient on any travellers itinerary. It’s a dish you can eat from the north to south, tip to tail. To a traveller it’s iconic.
The phở in Hanoi and the north is not the same in Saigon and the south.
In Hanoi, phở bo comes in a few variations – not to mention phở ga, with chicken – The difference lies in how the beef is cooked.
Tái nạm – Rare beef & flank
Tai – rare beef only
Chin – well cooked brisket.
It’s a fairly simple dish, but executed well. It consists of beef, noodles, spring onion and a light brown beef stock which is richened with star anise, cardamon and and other aromatic spices.
The place we visited a couple of times gets quite busy, and people from all walks of life get their phở breakfast fix there. It’s essentially a three man operation. One guy is in charge of the bowls, and putting the cooked noodles into them. They are passed down the line to the cleaver man; who then expertly slices the roasted beef joints down to slivers, throws a bit of raw beef on top, and passes down the line to the pot. They then scoop up the raw meat, and dip into the stock to blanch it for five, or so seconds. This then gets thrown back into the bowl, topped with greens and the stock coats the lot.
On the tables you can add fresh chili, sweet vinegar and chili sauce, although the strength of the homemade sauce varies from day to day; I discovered this the hard way.
The flavours are superb, deep and warm. The fatty looking cuts of beef on the counter become wonderfully soft, and the fat all melts off into the broth. It’s strangely both warming in the chilly Hanoi winter, and also quite pleasing in the heat of sticky summer.
I’ve not eaten much phở in the south, but Hanoian phở is considered salty compared with the more sweet Saigon style broth. ‘Northern style’ (phở bac) is usually a more clear soup base and Southerners are afforded an option of thick or thin noodles – there is also the addition of beansprouts in the southern version (phở nam).
Lastly, the other main distinction is the sauce, Northerners favour a chilli sauce whereas it’s common in the south to eat it with hoisin sauce. These are essentially small, subtle differences which won’t alter an unsuspecting diners enjoyment..
Expect to pay around 30-50’000VND per bowl.
Some useful phrases
Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants
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