Black-burnt liver draws hundreds to pho stall

By Tung Dinh   April 8, 2023 | 05:00 pm PT
The wonderful smell of fragrant fried liver has attracted hundreds of customers to Vinh’s pho noodle eatery every day since it first opened its doors in 1984.

Hoang Xuan Vinh, 64, is the owner of the pho eatery in the northern province of Bac Ninh that has been a popular breakfast spot for locals for many years. The real attraction is his topping that is quite unusual: liver that has been fried to a deep-black color.

The liver is cut into large pieces so that it still retains its softness and moisture when frying. Diners can taste the aromatic, nutty flavor of the liver when taking a bite.

The chef continuously stirs the liver in the hot pan for about 20 minutes until it is black.

Pieces of pork liver are stir-fried until black. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Pieces of pork liver are stir-fried until black. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

"Finding a decent supply of liver is the most difficult part. When frying the liver, it should be 70% charred on the outside and 30% soft on the inside to be tasty and not have a stinky taste," said Vinh.

The bone broth is simmered for hours according to the restaurant's secret formula.

When customers order pho, the broth is not poured immediately on the bowl, but must be cooked in the pan that is used to stir-fry the beef for a more fatty and sweet flavor.

Broth is poured into bowls of pho with full toppings. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Broth is poured into bowls of pho with full toppings. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

At the entrance there is a huge vegetable basket with bean sprouts, scallions, and basil. There is also a dipping sauce for customers to serve themselves. Raw veggies are combined with garlic vinegar, chili, and fish sauce and served with the burnt liver pho.

Vinh shared that in the beginning, people were not very enthusiastic about this dish. It took him six years to perfect the recipe and improve the quality and flavor of the pho. "When frying, we keep the liver that turns black and discard the one that turns yellow," he said. "Every day, the restaurant uses around 20 kilograms of liver and sells more than 200 bowls of pho, and we're busier on weekends."

A bowl of pho with full toppings includes fried liver, thinly sliced pork tenderloin, sautéed kidneys with onions, along with tomatoes and garlic. Each bowl costs between VND30,000 and VND50,000 ($1.28 and $2.13).

Pieces of fried black liver make Vinhs pho unique. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Pieces of fried black liver make Vinh's pho unique. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Due to the high number of customers, many diners save time by waiting at the counter and bringing their own food to their seats.

Because the shop is located in a small humid alley and there is no air conditioning, diners can feel overheated on hot days.

Nguyen Van Lieu, 50, often comes to this spot for breakfast. "The broth is sweet, the sprouts are mildly sweet, and the tenderloin is soft," he said. "Although the liver appears burnt on the outside, it is soft on the inside. This food is delicious."

The majority of those that visit the eatery are regulars.

Pham Van Anh, from the nearby Bac Giang Province, mentioned that he has been coming here since he was very young. "Every morning, my father used to bring me here for breakfast. I enjoy eating pho at this place because of the familiar tasty flavor. I come to eat approximately 2 to 3 times a week."

The Vinh Xuong restaurant stands along an alley at 82 Tran Luu Street, Thi Cau Ward, Bac Ninh. It is open from 5-11 a.m. every day.

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