Pho may be the most well-known dish in Vietnam. Just this name is enough to put Vietnamese cuisine on the world food map. You can find this bowl in any place in the country. From a luxury restaurant in metropolitan cities to an old stall in the remote mountains, each restaurant has some changes to suit its local taste. Pho in Ho Chi Minh City is slightly sweet, Pho in Nam Dinh City is a bit salty from fish sauce, and Pho in Lang Son has grilled duck instead of beef. It’s hard to say which one is the best but everybody implicitly admits that traditional Pho is only found in Hanoi. Tracing the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi, we can see him featured Pho in the series ‘No Reservations,’ episode six entitled “Food Porn”. With a cup of Vietnamese traditional coffee, your breakfast is complete and savory.
Now, let's discover why Pho captivates so many hungry souls from all over the world with us.
From a distance, you easily find the nearest shop just by following its aroma. Pho has a distinctive smell that no one can resist. It stirs up your stomach and makes you feel hungry as if you are starved all day long. You find yourself walking to the addictive odor so you can immediately satisfy your craving.
When you get closer, you see a feast for your eyes. Huge excellent cuts of boiled beef brisket, plate, and short loin hooking up over a big pot of boiling delicious broth. A large basket of white noodles arranged neatly, a small basket of green onion, and another of bright red chilies. Whenever the vendor opens his hot pot, the steam vaporizes like a hazy mist embracing the delightful piece of Hanoi.
Order your favorite one from the menu and wait. The shop owner will slowly place noodles into the bow, then thin slices of beef. They top with chopped herbs and green onions. Finally, they pour hot broth over the noodles. Your Pho has a delicious smell that stimulates your appetite strongly.
Don’t be hurry to have your first bite even though you are hungry and your noodle looks tempting. Take a small sip of hot soup because the soul of Pho stays right in its broth. Decide which spices you need to make it tastier according to your taste. Lime, handmade chili sauce, rice vinegar, and fish sauce are on the table, right within your reach.
Pho has the best taste when you have it hot. While eating, you occasionally savor the pleasant spicy of ginger, pepper, and chilies, and the aroma of fresh basil combined with the tenderness of noodles and the softness of beef. That is when you know, you are having the best dish ever.
Locals often have Pho with Quay (Stick Doughnuts). They dip the doughnut into the hot broth and enjoy.
People are still questioning the secret of making the best pho broth. Monosodium glutamate is not enough to create that taste. Some say that’s from the fish sauce. Others say that’s dried sea worms or dried squirt arms. But you can forget all these rumors unless you are going to open a restaurant. If your noodle is tempting and appetizing, that’s enough for a big eater.
Once, I went with a lady who lives in Ho Chi Minh City to a Pho restaurant in Hanoi. She ordered a Pho “with bean sprouts and veggies,” she said clearly. She was then confused when the seller looked at her curiously until I told her that Hanoians didn’t eat Pho with bean sprouts and greens like their brothers in the South. This small story shows the conservative character of the Hanoian. They are eager to learn new things, but they will never change a traditional dish that is quintessential to their cuisine.
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