A hot Saigon stew that’s not everyone’s cup of tea

By Di Vy   April 18, 2019 | 03:02 am PT
A small shop in a market alley in Saigon serves a hot stew made of beef and pork entrails.

It is a dish that not everyone raves about and foreigners in particular are prone to look askance at the ingredients, but aficionados will also tell you that once you try it, especially at a place that gets it right, there's no going back.

One place that gets a bowl of pha lau right is located deep in Alley 243 in District 4.

The evidence she gets it right is that Nga’s restaurant opens at 11 a.m. every day and closes after a few hours with no leftovers.

The restaurant is located on the front street so it’s easy to find. Photo by Di Vy.

Nga prepares her stew in an alley in HCMC’s District 4. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

Around noon, the small restaurant is ready to serve its customers. Nga, the owner who wants to be referred to only by her first name, prepares two big pots of the stew.

The stew goes with either bread or instant noodles. Nga said she only used fresh beef organs to make the stew. The aromatic broth entices those passing by to enter her restaurant. And once you taste the broth, you will find an ingredient that is not shown on the menu: coconut milk.

Each serving costs an average of 25,000 VND. Photo by Di Vy.

Each serving of the entrails costs an average of VND25,000 ($1.1). Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

Adding to the enjoyment of the dish is the sweet and sour taste of fish sauce with some kumquat juice. Eaters can tell the owner if they want their sauce spicy or not.

The bread might not be served warm, but it is kept closed in a basket to ensure its crispness. Break a small piece of bread, dip it in the broth followed by a dip in the fish sauce with kumquat.

Located in a market alley known as a "paradise" of snacks, Nga's shop opened a few years ago and it has always been crowded, mostly at noon.

"We often close at around 4-5 p.m, when there’s nothing left to sell," said Nga.

Pha lau eaters can wash down the special dish with centella (pennywort) juice and sugarcane which are ideal beverages for the Saigon weather hot day at VND5,000 - 10,000 (21-43 cents) a glass.

Pha lau with ramen noodle is a popular choice at lunch. Photo by Di Vy.

Pha lau with ramen noodle is a popular choice at lunch time. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

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