Food

‘Pho’ - a Hanoian's exquisite cuisine

The simple yet exotic delicacy of piping hot noodle soup with beef has captured the heart of many culinary connoisseurs locally and internationally.

A simple pleasure

The weather turns harsh, the chill of winter penetrates, and it is to soups and stews and comforting ritual meal we turn with gratitude. And it’s the time for Hanoi Pho, which basically is a series of variation’s on beef noodle soup, and has been described as the national dish of Vietnam.   

A bowl of 10 Ly Quoc Su Pho Stall. Photo: Bich Hoi

“Your order upon arrival: a bowl of rare or well-done beef Pho, with or without onion and, of course, no seasoning. A few minutes later the Pho is served at your table. The ritual begins. Squeeze in some lemon, add chilli and pepper, then mix the soup with your chopsticks. Bring the bowl level with your mouth and start to eat while drinking the broth with a porcelain spoon.”

“After finishing your Pho, pay for it on your departure, then take the traditional toothpick and move to the tea shop next door for a cup of green tea or coffee. Now, you are ready to start the new day.”

A leading expert of Vietnamese spices, Chef Didier Corlou, wrote these words about Pho in his cookbook. “People should first sample a bowl of the rice noodle soup with beef before going on to discover the mystery of Vietnamese culinary,” he recommended.

Pho could be found in luxurious Pho eateries or cheap-eat Pho stalls in the streets or markets. 

But Chef Didier Corlou, who has nearly 40 years of cooking experience and has been in Vietnam for more than 30 years, is just a “latecomer” in the journey of discovering the dish that is considered the “national soul” of Vietnam.

In the 1940s, pho was already very popular in Hanoi. Renown Vietnamese writer Thach Lam used to write on a book entitled “Hanoi’s 36 streets” that “Pho is a special gift of Hanoi, not only Hanoi has, but it is because only Pho in Hanoi is delicious”.

The special food that “its aroma alone is enough to chase winter from the soul” begins with the steaming of beef shinbones in a huge cauldron until the gelatinous consommé is concentrated – this takes about 24 hours. It is then spiced up with a dedicated balance of herbs, spices and salts.

When you place your order, the cook add slices of raw, cooked or sauté beef (depending on the order) to a bowl of the broth, on top of rice noodles, then sprinkles it all with sliced onion, chopped green onion and fresh coriander. 

Not only an ordinary meal

Diners are patiently waiting for their Pho orders. Photo: Bich Hoi.

Unlike other Hanoi specialties, eating Pho is a very common habit to Hanoian. Its popularity is explained by its usefulness, Pho can be a good start to the day, a quick meal during lunch or a really heavy meal for dinner.

In Hanoi, the Pho at any ‘Pho Ly Quoc Su’ stalls are worth trying once that any visitors to the capital should not miss. The Ly Quoc Su Pho’s owners may have its own reason to be so self-conceited. The brand of Pho Ly Quoc Su is the unique one in Hanoi which has keep the traditional Hanoi Pho original recipe since the years of 1948-1949. The host seems to be over fastidious about Pho spices.

Warning. There will be a long line of Pho eaters waiting in queues for being served at any Pho Ly Quoc Su in Hanoi. 

The luxurious Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su restaurant. Photo: Bich Hoi.

For Hanoian, Pho not only a food that helps to fill stomach but is a cultural habit that is rooted in each mind.

They might not take dumpling, sponge cake or other foods, but they must take at least a bowl of Pho more than once or twice a week for their whole of life.

They are willing to wake up earlier in the morning to wait patiently for a bowl of Pho in some famous stall then happily claim as one of their most important gratification of the day. One Pho’s fan has found the best Pho for him, he may be the most faithful client of this Pho stall for the remainder for his life.

And the last but not least, do not ne hestitant of the tiny and simply Pho stalls or you will miss your chance to test the real original Hanoi Pho that not to be found anywhere else on the earth.