Where you can’t beef about making a meal of offal

By Vi Yen   December 5, 2020 | 07:06 am PT
There are three pha lau eateries that Saigon food enthusiasts will swear by, each for a different version of the traditional offal stew.

At the nation’s pha lau hub, Saigon, many a local will tell you they prefer three places where this popular Vietnamese dish of Chinese origin is made with pork, beef or duck.

Oanh’s joint

Nestled in a small valley near District 4’s Xom Chieu Market, Oanh’s Pha Lau is a must-visit place on a food tour to this market. Despite the cramped space and its location being difficult to find for newcomers, the shop is often full of customers. The average price for one serving is VND25,000 ($1.08).

Bowls of Oanhs pha lau. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.

Bowls of Oanh's pha lau. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.

The main ingredient of the pha lau in this eatery is beef offal – liver, stomach and tripe. The owner selects the ingredients from the market very early in the morning and carefully processes them so they don’t let off any unsavory smell when cooking.

On collecting an order, Oanh starts to cut the offal into bite-sized chunks. Then she puts them in a bowl then adds fragrant, dense broth rendered richer with coconut milk. The long-shimmered beef offal is tender, juicy and crunchy. The dipping sauce adds a pungent flavor. The eatery also serves bread as a side dish for the stew. Broth refill is free.

The shop at 200/48 Xom Chieu, District 4 has been around for 20 years and opens from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Di Nui’s unique recipe

District 4 hosts Di Nui's (Aunt Nui's), another eatery popular among the city’s pha lau aficionados. This eatery stands out in that it serves the classic stewed beef pha lau, and a fried version, which is particularly favored by the younger crowd.

This eatery, also run for over 20 years, has its trade secret – a combination of spices to give the dish a unique taste.

Di Nuis pha lau with bread and pha lau noodle. Photo by mia_mai_nguyen.

Di Nui's pha lau with bread and pha lau noodle. Photo by mia_mai_nguyen.

Besides bread as a side dish, the shop at 243/30 Ton Dan Street, District 4 also serves instant noodles to go with the broth.

Indoor seats are available, but the space is very small and many customers have to sit outside. One serving costs VND27,000 to VND45,000.

Can’t duck this one

For duck pha lau, an unnamed eatery on District 8’s Bui Minh Truc Street is the place to get to. Around for 40 years, it opens from 3 p.m. every day and is always packed.

The recipe for the duck pha lau has been passed through generations and the flavor here can’t be found anywhere else. The price range is around VND50,000 per serving, given that its focus is not just the offal, but also other parts – head, wings, neck and legs.

All the meat is marinated with a variety of pha lau spices to give it a golden brown color and aroma.

Duck pha lau at 105 Bui Minh Truc Street. Photo courtesy of Sai Gon dau yeu.

Duck pha lau at 105 Bui Minh Truc Street. Photo courtesy of Sai Gon dau yeu.

Every day, the shop at 105 Bui Minh Truc Street, District 8 sells more than 100 kg of duck meat. Many diners tend to praise the delicious lemongrass ginger fish sauce, in particular. Another bestseller at this eatery is duck blood, which is served to early customers.

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