Tuesday, July 1, 2014
"Pho-nomenal" (Sorry, I Had to do It) Vietnamese Street Food @ Pho Restaurant
Last week, I was lucky enough to win a meal for two at Pho, courtesy of lifestyle magazine, About Time, and Pho Restaurants.
One of my favorite memories from our trip to Vietnam last year involved waking up at 7:00 a.m. in order to search the streets of Hanoi for a noodle street vendor who was rumored by guidebooks as being incredibly difficult to find, but definitely not-to-be-missed.
After wandering for 20 minutes or so through the cramped and chaotic roads, we finally stumbled upon an unmarked, narrow room of a shop that spilled out onto the sidewalk (though the concept of sidewalks doesn't really exist in Hanoi - if you've ever been, you'll know what I mean) and a lone woman who sat on a small stool, stirring a boiling pot of water. We must have looked confused, but she nevertheless smiled and kindly gestured for us to sit down at the short counter inside as office workers and even police officers, beginning their shifts, shuffled in to the makeshift "restaurant" for some bun rieu - a Hanoi speciality.
Before long, the invigorating smell of beef broth filled our noses and two steaming bowls of aromatic, soup noodles topped with thin slices of steak and clusters of crab meat magically appeared before us. Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious and an experience I'll never forget.
I never thought this culinary experience (minus the crazy traffic, heat, and makeshift sidewalk "kitchen", of course) could have been replicated anywhere else, so I was very surprised - not to mention, thoroughly impressed - when we were served dishes at Pho that were so strikingly similar to those we had sampled in the backstreets of Hanoi.
To say that I was skeptical of the restaurant's authenticity is an understatement: I expected it to be another run-of-the-mill Vietnamese restaurant, indistinguishable to those peppering the streets of Shoreditch. But as soon as I bit into my bun cha gio chay (vermicelli rice noodles with herbs, mooli, and veggie spring rolls) I was deeply ashamed of my callous pre-judgment: it was so good. And tasted almost exactly like the bowls of bun I ordered in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
John's bun rieu (vermicelli rice noodles in a hearty, tomato and crabmeat broth with wafer thin steak and tofu) looked mouth-wateringly tasty across the table. It tasted nearly exactly like the bun rieu we had in Hanoi!
Of course, I can't forget to mention the amazing cocktails (it was Friday, after all), which were equally yummy: I ordered a Dua Colada (coconutty goodness in alcoholic form) - and John had the Hanoi Mule, a refreshing choice for a summer's evening with fresh apple, ginger, and lime.
For dessert, I was transported back to our last night in Hanoi, where we sat outside amongst throngs of tourists and locals alike on teeny tiny benches late at night, enjoying beers and street food until the police kicked us off the sidewalks and made us go inside (which we all disobeyed as soon as they rounded the corner) ... I opted for a favorite of mine, banana fritters served with coconut ice cream (in case you couldn't tell, I freaking love coconut!) and John had the fantastic pandan pancake with ginger ice cream and roasted coconut.
We basically rolled out of the restaurant after that, clutching at our stomachs and barely able to manage the 20-minute walk home, but I know that I'll definitely be returning to Pho every time I want my Hanoi street food fix.
Thank you, About Time and Pho, for an excellent meal! xoxo