Vietnam’s signature dish, is a deeply satisfying bowl of beef, or sometimes chicken, a noodle soup that “cures what ails ya” and provides a filling meal at any time of the day.
After living in Hanoi for over four years and traveling to a number of places in Vietnam, I have sampled many delicious Vietnamese soups, but almost all of them pale in comparison to the ubiquitous bowl of pho served in restaurants and on street corners across the country. Its only main competitor, in my list of favorites, is the ‘bun moc’ I ate several times in Nam Dinh city.
The origins of pho are a bit murky but that really doesn’t matter…wherever you eat it and in whatever form, it is delicious and absolutely hits the spot.
In northern Vietnam, most people claim that pho originated in Hanoi, but others insist it comes from Nam Dinh province. I do not know which argument is true, but the best pho I have ever eaten was at a little restaurant in Hanoi on Ton Duc Thang Street, not far from Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature). I cannot remember the exact address. I just said “Pho Ting, Ton Duc Thang to the taxi driver and he knew where to go.
It is hard to pinpoint what makes this ‘pho’ so special. Maybe it was the company of a very good friend, or perhaps it was the elegantly sliced scallions floating on top of the particularly delectable broth…whatever it was, it is the best pho I’ve ever had. I hope someday I will figure out the secret and replicate it at home.
My Vietnamese friend who accompanied me on the pho excursions to Ton Duc Thang Street tells me that this type of pho originates from Nam Dinh. She and I would also meet quite frequently at a local pho shop near her office, which I really liked, but my Vietnamese colleagues say is only so-so. Maybe the fact that the shop had air conditioning in the summer affected my positive impression…after all, I am a foreigner from a much colder climate and I consider the temperature of dining establishments to be a significant factor.
Pho can be had everywhere throughout Vietnam and it is usually eaten for breakfast. In my opinion, it is a perfect breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) and much more appealing than the traditional Western bacon, eggs, and toast. Slurping it up from a porcelain bowl using chopsticks and a metal or ceramic spoon is also a lot more fun.
You cannot say you have been to Vietnam unless you have eaten pho at some point during the day. It is an enduring symbol of the country’s soul and it will definitely satisfy yours.