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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.
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.
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.
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.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 8th February, 2017.