Pho: Not just noodle soup
Slurp it up
What we say:
Vietnam’s favourite dish, pho, takes its name from the type of noodle that is used in its preparation, and this noodle is used in numerous other dishes. I’ve recently moved to a new apartment and find myself living in the epicentre of pho-land: within a few minutes’ walk I pass half a dozen restaurants selling pho xao bo, pho chien phong and, most famous of all in this area, pho cuon. So let me tell you more about these delights …
Pho cuon are one of my new favourite things, especially now summer’s here and light, cold food becomes more appealing. Pho cuon look a bit like spring rolls — sauted beef and greens are simply rolled in a large square of pho noodle and served with a dipping sauce — but taste very different. A standard portion is 10 rolls, for around 40,000 VND.
Pho xao mem is pho noodles, lightly fried (so they are still soft) and — in my experience — served with stir-fried beef and green veg. As far as my uneducated palate goes, this is the same as pho xao bo, but I’m told that pho xao mem doesn’t always come with beef. Pho xao ron is similar but the noodles are fried for longer until they become crispy.
Pho chua and pho chien phong are both recent discoveries for me. The first is stir-fried beef with a sweeter, yummier sauce than pho xao (in my humble opinion), mixed with fresh herbs and topped with chopped nuts. Pho chien phong takes the simple pho noodle into a completely different dimension, deep-frying squares of it so that it puffs up into pillow-like shapes. But there the difference ends: to my uneducated palate they are served with the same topping as on pho xao bo.
The best place to try these dishes is in Truc Bach area. Try the joints along Ngu Xa, but keep an eye out for them at other street kitchens.
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