Lea and I went to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a couple of weekends ago. It was a very short weekend trip, but every meal we partook of consisted of this delightful dish we call pho. I mean, what else would you eat in Vietnam? Well, we also had coffee and banh mi, but that’s fodder for other posts 🙂
We purposely trekked 4km around the city to look for this one rather popular pho shop called Pho Hoa located on 260C Pasteur. It looks like a very rustic kopitiam from the outside, which I love because it reminds me of the coffee shop my grandma and I go to for breakfast at home. There is nothing worse than inauthenticity. I think the shop was quite popular with both locals and tourists alike, so it probably wasn’t as overrated as one would think.
You’d think that after a solid hour of traipsing up and down the city in 32 degree heat, the last thing you would want is a steaming hot bowl of noodles. Yeah, you’d think that we would be cursing the sun and slapping on sunscreen and whinging about the walk as good Asian girls would. But no. Quite the opposite, actually. We always indulge the inner fat sweaty children in us and good food always comes first!
The table is already laden the moment you sit down; with 5 bananas, 5 wedding cakes, 5 nem chua (pork paste wrapped in banana leaf, as shown above. Resembles otak-otak quite closely, except of course it’s made of pork not fish hence its more rubbery-like texture. Oddly enough I also didn’t think it was very delicious), 5 dầu cháo quỷ (you char kway). 5 of everything so that when you take something, they know you’ve eaten something off the pile. I was very impressed with their system. It’s not like you can magically reproduce another you char kway without the hawk eyes of the waitress lady watching you. Also available was the usual mountain of basil leaves, cilantro, mint, beansprouts, limes and chillies. All these things are equally important when crafting your pho, because each garnish has its own unique flavour that couples with the beef, like half boiled eggs and black pepper.
Lea got pho with raw beef, while I ordered the “special” pho, as per. “Special” simply means they add raw beef, well done beef and beef balls. Enough protein to build an army, really.
The thing that sets all pho shops apart is the stock, more so than the noodle. Rice noodles don’t have a naturally chewy consistency to begin with, so it’s not difficult to get that right. The soup at Pho Hoa saddled the fine line between salty and sweet, meaty and light. In no time, Lea had finished her food. I like to think I’m a slower eater, but it was probably because I just had more food in front of me. Mm, beef.