Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ho Chi Minh - Pho

After the excesses of Singapore, we four were looking forward to Vietnam where we believed we could eat and drink a little less. We were mistaken. Ho Chi Minh is culinarily mature and there seemed to be endless possibilities when it came to food.

We landed in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day 'acclimatising' with a few Saigon beers. We were to tackle the heart of HCM the morning after. We left the hotel early, and stumbled into the heat looking for breakfast. We found a place straight away and a woman carrying a gurgling baby fed us with bread, jam, omelettes with cheese and vegetables and a mango shake. One is never far from somewhere to eat in HCM. Detemined to soak up some of the culture, we headed out into the city on foot, coated in sunscreen. We bumped into some very friendly Vietnamese blokes who wanted to take us around the city for the nxt 2 hours in the front of their tricycles. "Why not?" we said. I was nervous as hell as we weaved in and out of the relentless tide of motorbikes and bicycles. Some mopeds carried up to 4 generations of a family, others huge boxes of fruit and vegetables, and all road users share common philosophies. Just hit the gas, pray, don't bump anybody in front, weave at all times and sound your horn as often as you can. I remember one moment when we pulled into a massive roundabout with no lines on the road, 93 lines of traffic and everybody seemed to be heading for us. Great way to see the city though.

We were dropped off at the market, a good 2 hours later having covered maybe 5 miles and one temple. This market was where the real action was. Food everywhere. Hot streets paved with hot pans, curry, soups, vendors haggling over live fish, greens, intensely coloured fruit. Everybody was selling something you could eat. I bought some coffee that smelled like chocolate. I wanted to buy some crabs too, but good sense prevailed and I held off. I mean, where would I cook them? It was getting close to lunchtime and I was delerious and hungry. We spotted a shop just called Pho and headed straight in for cold beer and some soup.

Pho is Vietnam's national dish. It's a simple noodle soup with meat/fish and fresh garnishes. I wanted some Pho Bo, or beef noodle soup. A well flavoured beef broth is made by stewing beef fillet, oxtails and brisket with aromatics. The beef fillet and brisket are thinly sliced and added to the strained broth with noodles and garnished typically with sliced red chilli, fish sauce, greens, beansprouts, coriander, basil leaves and lime wedges. Fresh and delicious. Mine had some thin slices of tripe in it too, for good measure. I enjoyed every slurp. Pho is eaten at any time of the day, and I was eager to try my own hand at Pho when I got home.

I found a great authentic Pho recipe online. I will cheat though when I finally get around to making it and not make my own fresh stock at home. It's just not practical in my kitchen. I will cook the thinly sliced beef from raw in the hot broth rather than stew it first. I am thinking about some interesting variations too. A surf and turf one with oysters. Perhaps a decadent pho with slivers of foie gras? Scallops and pork belly?

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