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Archive for the ‘Vietnamese’ Category

Those who know me know of my OBSESSION with pho. There’s something about a bowl of aromatic soup noodles that is so darn comforting. Call it chicken noodle soup for the Asian soul, I guess. HK Island is dotted with Vietnamese joints and I’ve sampled a fair bit, though I must admit I get stuck on my favorite, Nha Trang. However, I’ve found a worthy pho rival on the streets of Wan Chai: Pho Saigon. This place makes steaming bowls of brothy goodness just like the stuff I had in Hanoi. Go. If you appreciate authentic pho, you will not be disappointed.

Rare-beef pho, which I realized might have been a bit risky for takeaway...but I can think of it as beef carpaccio if it doesn't cook, right?

The broth!

My first experience with Pho Saigon was take-away, and honestly, I’m glad it was. That’s because they packed my broth and noodles separate and I think I got extra broth (which is my favorite part of the dish!). It was amazing to taste them separately because it seemed as though the already-amazing brother underwent a metamorphosis when I poured it into the bowl with chilis, lime, and marjoram (OMMMMGGG the marjoram! So good!). Pre-noodles, the broth had the most wonderful taste of cloves and star anise that I haven’t gotten in any other pho place in town. So heavenly.

I loved the pho so much I went to the restaurant later that week. The manager/host is super-nice; he’s Vietnamese but speaks really good English, and quite good Canto, from what I could tell. He actually remembered me from earlier in the week; when we came in, he immediately said, “Welcome back!” (to the amusement of my dining companions, P and W). We ordered the pho again, the sweet potato curry, rice paper rolls, and the original bahn mi. Truthfully, I think the pho is the best out of those dishes; I’ve gotten better for  both the latter two items. However, the sweet potato curry was really unique – the sweetness came not from coconuts, as is usually expected, but from the mashy sweet potato. The manager also told us if the curry wasn’t thick enough we could stir it up or ask him for more. I liked that; service felt very personalized. It seemed like he actually cared if we had a good dining experience, which is a pleasant departure from some other places in town where they expect you to eat it and beat it, so long as they get your money.

Sweet potato curry

P also got a hot Vietnamese coffee at the end of the meal. He pronounced it one of the best ones he’s had; the coffee itself was just a little bit sweet but still boldly biting.

But the pho! Every time I think about it, I want to pull a Joseph-Conrad-Heart-of-Darkness moment and just cry out, “The pho! The pho!” Except what I’m dying of is happiness.

Pho Saigon
G/F, 319 Hennessy Road
2833 6833
Cost: ~ Takeaway $31 for small bowl of pho; $80 for dine-in dinner

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Note: This updated post has further information about bun cha. Whereas I thought it was served in a soup, Ravenouscouple informed me it was actually nuoc mam choc. See their comment below for a link to the recipe. Thanks for the feedback!

E and I went to Laos and Hanoi over Christmas and New Year’s. Going into it, I was particularly psyched for Hanoi, which is known for its street food.

Bun cha: a Hanoi must-have

My most memorable meal in Hanoi was at a small store specializing in bun cha: a dish with vermicelli served with a side of nuoc mam cham (thanks for the correction, ravenouscouple!) with vegetables and (here’s the kicker) strips of just-grilled bacon and minced pork patties that reminded me of kofta. The soup and vegetables are served a bit lukewarm (or at least, at this stall they were) and the meat is fresh off the outdoor grill, adding some nice warmth to the dish. At the table there was a large basket of herbs, from which I chose saw-toothed coriander, basil, and cilantro to dress up my soup. You take the bun (vermicelli) and dip it into the soup/vegetables/pork to prevent the noodles from getting too soft while you’re eating (genius!).

We be grillin'

I think this meal sticks out in my mind because the meat was so good. Unlike the beef in pho tai, which basically comes out to be boiled meat (which I quite like in its own right), this pork was grilled. Specifically, that meant the bacon had crispy edges that added a great texture to the bun cha. Also, the kofta-esque patties were spiced with a heavy hand, which also suited my palate.

E loved it too, as we both declared this our best meal in Hanoi.

Bun Cha
20 Ta Hien Street
Old Quarter
Hanoi

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(This may be the closest I get to writing a bad review.)

Going back in time, I must comment on a meal I had last Sunday. I was with C, a mainland-born, Canto-, Mandarin- and English-speaking friend, and we decided to have lunch at Nuocmam in Mongkok. It was about 11:30, and we were the first ones there. I spoke to the hostess (in English) and we were promptly seated with our menus. We ordered a bowl of pho, some spring rolls, and a chicken vermicelli (typical, I know), and waited.

Mango madness

Let's spring for some rolls

First, some cursory comments on the food: it was generally quite good, especially the pho broth. It had a bit more mint than usual, giving it a kick of freshness. We ordered the rare beef pho, which came out as two entities: First, there was a bowl with noodles, beef, and sprouts. Then, the waiter came with a tea kettle of broth, which he poured in front of us. I’d never seen this done before, but accordingly, the rare beef cooked before our eyes. Very neat! The spring rolls were nice, too, with mango (quite original!) and chives.

The food was yummy, yes, but the thing that really stood out about this meal was language discrimination. That’s right, we were slighted based on our speaking English! Like I said, we were the first ones there, but soon, families and couples filled in around us. We noticed everyone else had a blue sheet with boxes to tick; I was craning my neck the whole time to see what they were, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of our meal, C asked the captain in Cantonese for a copy of the sheet. We found out that, on Sundays and public holidays, Nuocmam has a deal where, for $75 HKD a person for an hour-and-a-half, you can order as many items as you like off the blue menu! Naturally, we demanded why we didn’t get a menu and the captain initially said, “maybe they forgot you” but we immediately dismissed that – we were the first (and only) customers for a while. She then admitted that they thought we only spoke English and, as the buffet menu was all in Chinese, we wouldn’t understand it. I was slightly miffed. C asked ever-so-nicely if we could get a discount on our meal. No dice, but the captain said she’d bring out free desserts (which were good as well).

Fortunately, our bill was about $80 HKD a person, so not an egregious difference, but still! We felt slightly cheated. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth (figuratively), but the buffet is quite a deal, so as much as I’d like to remain indignant, I may be back sometime in the future with a Canto-speaker.

Still, this kind of language discrimination surprised me. I’m used to people giving me short shrift when I speak Mandarin, but never before had I missed out on something great simply because it was assumed I/we only spoke English. Hmmph.

Nuocmam
Shop C, 6/F, One Grand Tower
639 Nathan Road
2628 0331
Cost: ~ $80 HKD/person

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