Jun 19 2012

Saigon street food: Pho

Published by at 5:04 am under Saigon street food


A trip to Saigon, or Vietnam for that matter, isn’t complete until you sit down for a bowl of the famous pho. Although plenty of restaurants in Saigon serve pho, you may find the best bowl right on the side of the street.

Saigon's must-see attraction.

Saigon's must-see attraction.

Pho may seem like a simple dish of rice noodles and meat, but making a good bowl is a fine art. For example, my go-to-pho-guy starts preparing the stock, enough for more than a hundred bowls, the day before he will sell it. When you order pho the meat will usually come on the pink side. This may scare a pho novice but is nothing to worry about; simply grab your rice noodles and use them to bury your meat, which will then cook in the piping hot broth. Next you will notice that pho is served with a big plate of condiments, consisting of bean sprouts, some leafy greens and chillies, which you can use at your own discretion. Unlike pho in the north, the pho in Saigon is on the sweeter side and uses a thinner noodle; you also typically get more sprouts and garnishes.

This is my pho guy.

This is my pho guy.

Finding a street spot serving pho in a Saigon market or on the city’s street is by no means a difficult task, as someone likely sells this tasty soup on every block in the city. You usually won’t see a pho cart on the go, as Saigon pho vendors are usually more established; you’re more likely to see a cooking area permanently fixed to the front of a building. Besides the obvious — like a sign that says pho — one way to spot a pho vendor is by being on the lookout for stacks of big bowls signifying that this vendor sells big bowls of soup. Also, pho rarely has different noodle options, making a display of various noodles a red flag.

That's a lot of onion.

That's a lot of onion.

A bowl of pho on the street will come with fewer options compared to what you may get in a more established restaurant. For example, Pho 2000 has dozens of options when it comes to what goes inside your soup; on the street most carts will only have a few options, such as beef or bo, separated into a few cuts like tai (slices of rare steak), nam (sliced flank) or beef meatballs called bo vien.

Since chicken pho, or pho ga, requires a stock made from chicken bones, and you usually have to go to a bigger pho restaurant to find it, although sometimes you may get lucky.

Whatever meat you do choose, expect a bowl on the street to start around 20,000 VND, or 30,000 VND closer to tourist areas.

A steaming pot of goodness.

A steaming pot of goodness.

If you’re nervous about eating in a street setting but you want to try something a bit riskier than one of Saigon’s pho chains, head to Pho Anh on Ky Dong in District 3, where you can find a cheap bowl of both pho ga and pho bo under the cover of a roof with normal sized tables and chairs. And, if street pho sparks your interest in looking for some different Vietnamese street soup options, give bun bo hue, hu tieu or canh bun a try.

Pho Anh
8-10A Ky Dong, W.9, District 3
T: (08) 3843 7480

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Saigon street food: Pho”

  1. Willon 20 Jun 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I’m Vietnamese and that bowl looks really good. I’ve had many a bowl of pho here in the states and my favorite is with just the meat (tai).

    I especially like “tai rien” where the beef is served to you raw on the side and you dip the beef in yourself. This way you are guaranteed that the beef is not overcooked.

    Looking foward to my first bowl of authentic Vietnamese pho when I visit for the first time. :)

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  3. Johnnyon 03 Nov 2012 at 1:59 am

    All of the food options that you’ve mentioned during your visit are too common and they are available here in the states ( Pho is the easiest/cheapest way to make a fast high profit for the vietnamese entrepreneurs abroad ). It’s fastfood to people in Vietnam as Hamburger or Pizza to the US. The majority of the vietnamese national usually eat Pho only for breakfast or snack (streetfood style), and there are many other choices beside those that were mentioned. Pho is not that popular to the Vietnamese as one would think.

    Pho is invented in the North and that is 100% authentics. The sweetness that you tasted from the Southern soup for Pho = MSG ( large amount of it, which is typical in southern cooking style, and they don’t fully cook it either! Sugar anyone? ).

    Have you try something more on the authentics side of the Vietnamese cuisines ? To name a few restaurants in Saigon that serve these cuisines are Com Nieu (authentics vietnamese traditional lunch and dinner plates), Lang Nuong Nam Bo (BBQ, anything can be use to BBQ!), Quan Hai Lua (authentics vietnamese lunch and dinner plates). A few choices from these places are something like Ca Kho To, Thit Kho To, Canh Chua Ca loc, Rau Muong Xao Toi, Dau Hu Xot Ca Chua, Canh Cua Dong, Rau Muong Luoc and Ca thu chien don cham nuoc man nhi, etc. Furthermore, not all of the dishes mentioned here are created the same in the restaurants mentioned either.

    Vietnam has three main regions (North, Central, South) and within a region there are many ethnic groups. Saigon is the melting pot for them, just as the US for the people of the world. Hence, a wide variety of authentic dishes are available for you to choose from.

    Pho is not all there is about Vietnam cuisine, but rather it’s just a stepping stone to this country’s wide variety of food ventures.

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