Thursday , February 2 2023

No herbs, no hoisin sauce: A true Hanoi style pho in Saigon


A pho restaurant in Saigon has continued to serve food in the traditional northern style for more than 20 years, setting it apart from other restaurants in the area.

In Saigon, you can come across many different versions of pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, originating from localities across the country. To suit the tastes of southern diners, many of them have been modified by adding bean sprouts and hoisin sauce. However, there are still many restaurants that insist on keeping the traditional flavor of northern pho. A typical example is the Phu Gia restaurant on Ly Chinh Thang Street in District 3.

Although there are many tables set up inside the restaurant, the eight tables in the front are constantly occupied by diners. All customers are drawn in by the aroma of the boiling broth in the cooking area. Coming to the restaurant early in the morning, you can see a big wok set up at the front. The aroma of stir-fried beef with garlic cooking on a wok over a flaming fire can attract anyone passing by.

Meat and ingredients are neatly arranged at the front of the eatery. Photo by VnExpress/ Huynh Nhi

Meat and ingredients are neatly arranged at the front of the eatery. Photo by VnExpress/ Huynh Nhi

Nguyen Xuan Chinh, the owner of the eatery, said the shop has been open for more than 20 years, since his parents’ time, but now he has taken over. The shop sells different parts of beef, from well-done flanks to tendon, at VND70,000 ($2.99) per bowl.

Pho tai lan is the restaurant’s most famous dish, with prices ranging from VND75,000 to VND90,000 per bowl.

“The main ingredients of pho tai lan are stir-fried beef and rice noodles, with a rich broth. It is very popular with diners,” Chinh said.

Pho with stir-fried beef is popular among diners at Phu Gia restaurant. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

Pho with stir-fried beef is popular among diners at Phu Gia restaurant. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

A bowl of pho is not served with herbs as in other places. The only seasoning is pickled garlic, chili, lime, chili sauce, and you can order a plate of fried dough sticks to eat with the pho. Customers can ask for bean sprouts if they order a bowl of pho with well-done flank.

At Phu Gia, a bowl of pho is quite big. The flat noodles are soft, white, and have a smooth texture. The bowl is topped with stir-fried beef with chopped scallions, onions and cilantro. The broth retains a layer of tasty fat from the stir-fried oil.

You can taste a rich and very lightly sweet flavor from the broth. Its aroma comes mostly from the beef broth and stir-fried beef with garlic. Compared to the pho with well-done flank or pho with tendon, the pho tai lan has a stronger broth flavor due to its seasoned stir-fried beef. Pho tai lan will taste best if you add some lime juice to the broth, or eat it with the fried dough sticks. Additionally, the stir-fried beef is tender and not chewy, and the green onions are sweet and odorless.

A bowl of pho tai lan costs VND75,000. Photo by VnExpress/ Huynh Nhi

A bowl of pho tai lan costs VND75,000. Photo by VnExpress/ Huynh Nhi

Thanh Binh, a regular customer, said the price is high but it’s worth it.

“There are no herbs, so I can taste the broth, noodles, and beef better,” he said.

The restaurant has many fans, but because of the small space and how hot the food is, it can occasionally feel stuffy inside.

Some people who come to eat at Phu Gia restaurant are unhappy paying an additional VND4,000 for motorbike parking. The restaurant is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and reopens at 5 p.m. until late at night. Because people come here to eat breakfast before going to work, it is crowded in the morning.

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