Eating pho like a Hanoian
What we say:
Pho — the staple of Vietnam — is available all day and, for my post-drinking eating pleasure, all night. A quick resume: steaming fragrant broth, thick rice noodles, beef or chicken. Simple and tasty as that.
It’s not a tricky dish to eat but, for those of you who have as yet been unwilling to venture into the unknown — and the unknown as seen from a little plastic seat — here’s what my Vietnamese friends told me to do to avoid looking too much like a foreigner. Well, apart from the obvious things that give us away of course.
Firstly, chances are that the place you’ve sat at will only serve pho. You’ll be able to work that out from the sign. So no need to tell them that’s what you’re after. If the sign says just ‘pho ga’ or ‘pho bo’ then there’s also probably just the one choice of meat on the menu too — chicken (ga) or beef (bo) — in which case just indicate how many bowls you want with a show of fingers or in Vietnamese numbers. If they offer both options then you just need to say ‘ga’ or ‘bo’ along with the numbers.
Pho is often now eaten with Quay: deep-fried donut-like sticks. They’re a relatively new introduction but are very common. Have a look to see if anyone else is eating them — as in if they’re available — and if they are and you want some just say ‘Mot Quay‘ –pronounced kway — or point, and they’ll bring you a basket. If there are too many then say so straight away as you’ll be charged for them.
So to the eating. There are no set rules here. Most people use a spoon and chopsticks, with many using the chopsticks to pile the noodles and meat onto the spoon to eat, but you can eat straight from the chopsticks and just use the spoon to scoop up the broth if you prefer. Just get your mouth near enough to the bowl that you’re not trying to transport a pile of steaming noodles too far or you could end up wishing that you’d not worn that white T-shirt.
As for additions, see what’s on the table. Traditionally vinegar is added to pho, and this is still provided in most places with pieces of garlic floating in it, but lime juice is a more recent addition. Chillies or chilli sauce are also usually available. Just try a bit of what you fancy until you get it spot on but be careful of the chilli sauce — it can have quite a kick.
And finally, paying. If no-one looks when you look around expectantly then walk up to the serving area. Pho is usually around 20 – 25,000 VND a bowl.
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