A word about phở

After years and years of eating phở in America (spelled “pho” here, and often pronounced like foe, but it should be fuh), I finally got to eat phở in Vietnam. The very first bowl I had was at Phở Vuông on Giang Vo Street in Hanoi. It was very tasty, but despite being surrounded by Vietnamese diners, I felt like a complete tourist in the clean, well-lighted, air-conditioned restaurant. As written in the Vietnamese God blog in 2006:

It is a bit pricy but it is worth it for the comfortable chairs, high tables, and air-con which is great in such a hot summer.

Pricey: 28,000 dong for a bowl of phở bò tái (or pho tai, my fave, the one with thin slices of raw lean beef that cook to perfection in the steaming hot broth); 21,000 for ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee, one of the finest things on earth), and 3,000 for a plate of quay, my new discovery — a Vietnamese riff on fry bread that you drop into your phở to soak up the fragrant broth — YUM!

That’s a grand total of 52,000 dong — about US$3 at today’s rates. It is pricey compared with street phở (about 12,000 dong, which is less than one dollar), but it sure is nice to be sure you’ll get the lovely tái and not the nasty tendon, tripe, or even more exotic variants that local people may prefer.

Yes, I’m a wimp when it comes to eating organ meats, or other parts of animals not commonly seen in U.S. supermarkets (even though my German ancestors love munching on tripe and pig’s stomach). So I never did get around to eating phở bò tái in Saigon. Next time around.

Jodi & Co. and I ate twice at Pho24 in Hanoi — one branch at 3B Thi Sach St., and the other at 61 Van Mieu St. (that one was full of Western tourists! But the phở was lovely anyway). We found that the outlet mentioned in the current edition of Lonely Planet (at the southeast corner of Hoan Kiem Lake) has disappeared. Three of the Vietnamese journalists in Hanoi told me that Phở Vuông has replaced Pho24 as the top phở restaurant in the capital city. I don’t know, but I thought Pho24’s broth had more flavor, more like the Saigon-esque versions we get around Washington, D.C. (where you can find branches of Pho24 too).

One big surprise for us was the lack of salad (or rather, a plate piled high with basil, mint, and bean sprouts) to accompany the phở. That’s a southern thing, I was told, and not common in Hanoi.

I have not a single photo of a bowl of pho. Every time it came to the table, I was so happy to see it and smell it, I forgot everything else except eating it.

Read more about phở at the Noodle Pie blog.