Meet the tango'd up 'pho'

By Hoang Hoang   July 6, 2016 | 05:37 am PT
What happens when you take the broth out of 'pho'? Welcome to the revolution.

Times change and so do people, and 'pho' is no exception. The world famous soup you know and love has found a new homie - ‘pho xao’.

Sneaking into the crowded streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, passing through hundreds of motorbikes wriggling through the chaos in the hot summer, you feel like Indiana Jones looking for that piece of treasure hiding somewhere in the jungle of Vietnamese cuisine. Suddenly, you are struck by a strong, enchanting scent that grabs your attention.

"Is that fried garlic?"

"That must be beef frying in hot oil!" Your mind can’t help guessing, your feet mindlessly bring you closer. That’s it, that mixture of rice noodles, beef and spinach dancing in a huge burning pan is what’s inviting you. Your body tells you to get a fresh, healthy salad for this blazing weather, but your brain plainly shouts "Heck no". Without hesitation, "One portion and a cold Hanoi beer," you say.

Don’t mistake it for ‘pho’. ‘Pho xao’ has a unique flavor that has nothing to do with its watery sibling, like a student who spent 15 years of their life in New York coming back to see his brother in the middle of the Old Quarter.

"Xao" in Vietnamese means to stir-fry, and ‘pho xao’ simply translates into stir-fried ‘pho’. Forget about the hearty soup that earned ‘pho’ its fame. This time we've moved on. In order to make delicious ‘pho xao’, you need a big fire and fast action. Beef and spinach are flash-fried in a huge pan in order to preserve the juiciness of the beef and the crunchy texture of the spinach. The two whirl around each other in time to something akin to the tango, accompanied by garlic, pepper and oyster sauce as their backup dancers. The skillful chef tosses the beef and its partner spinach up in the air, fired up in flames to create a sensational mixture of love, lust and life. The smooth white rice noodles for ‘pho xao’ are slightly thicker than those used for ‘pho’, and are stir-fried separately in a different pan until they are crispy with a sprinkle of fish sauce (or soy sauce) for taste.

Before serving, the beef and spinach are fried together with the noodles and then delivered on a steaming plate. "What’s so good about this?" you arrogantly think "I have tried Michelin star restaurants, and there is no way a street-side dish can compare to them." First bite, second bite, third bite: you cannot stop munching. Pausing, you realize that you have been defeated by ‘pho xao’. The beef carries a burning, charcoal-grilled sense. When combined with the crunchy texture of the fresh spinach and the crispy nice noodles, your mouth explodes. Each bite you take in is like getting punched with flavors. Booming, thrilling, and you crave for more.

"Why is the beef is so soft?" "Is this the ‘flambé’ technique in French cooking?" "What is this sensual scent that is taking over my mouth?" .Your mind is overwhelmed with questions but above all that, ‘pho xao’ has effortlessly become the victor.

‘Pho xao’ for lunch: who is ready?

Pho Xao Phu My – 45 Bat Dan, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Beef Muscle Pho Xao – 11 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Pho Yen – 66 Cua Bac, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi

Related news:

> While Hanoi has 'pho', Saigon has 'hu tieu'

> The real ‘pho’ experience

> Japan dedicates day to traditional Vietnamese pho

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