The real ‘pho’ experience

By Pham Van   June 25, 2016 | 04:56 am PT
‘Pho’ has earned its place in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s not any specific ‘pho’, just ‘pho’ in general. VnExpress takes a closer look at some of the unique ‘pho’ you can find in Hanoi; each of which deserves a sub-article for its unmistakable taste and legacy.

‘Tu lun’

Hanoians, for fear of getting chubby and for the sake of a light breakfast, have been ordering their ‘pho’ with clear broth instead of the fatty broth that comes from the top hazy layer of the stockpot. At Tu Lun on Hai Ba Trung Street, it’s not an option. The raw meat is placed in the bowl before being topped up with broth, leaving the broth cloudy with fatty juices from the rare meat. The cloudiness is the evidence of a cooking philosophy that insists on the full preservation of original taste.

‘Tu lun’ once boasted firm wooden tables and chairs that took up the whole pavement, but the place has gone plastic since Hanoi decided that it wanted the pavement to be free of impromptu businesses. All that has changed is now the staff are on the alert for local police so they can whisk the chairs inside before they get there. Customers just don’t care. ‘Pho’ gourmets still flock here, waiting for a space to become available so they can have their fill.


Known better for the stir-fried beef ‘pho’, 'Thin' has thrived on this unique ‘pho’ and a style of self-service that stirs controversy among amateur critics throughout Vietnam. The raw meat that normally acquires its edible state with a quick dip in the broth now gets sealed in a pan, providing that tantalizing aroma that is produced whenever fire gets involved. The eating experience isn't based solely on the dish. Talking about 'Thin' we have to mention the service, which is more akin to KFC than a traditional eatery. Queuing, pre-paid and do-it-yourself are the words to best describe it. You are the waiter in both senses of the word. Tried and tested, it seems that paying to do nearly everything by yourself doesn’t make a bowl of ‘pho’ at 'Thin' any less attractive.

'Pho ganh'

For a business to thrive it normally needs a brand. Few can’t do without, but right here on the roadsides of Hanoi survives a kind of ‘pho’ that predates any brick and mortar places: ‘pho ganh’. ‘Ganh’ is the word used to describe a prevailing tool placed over the shoulder to carry all kinds of merchandise in the old days. They can still be seen on the streets today, but usually not for carrying a stove around for the old-school door-to-door cooking service. The ‘pho ganh’ mentioned here is not the same service offered by yesterday’s vendors. It's a quite different way of doing business and seems to have been adapted over time. Three in the morning: too late for supper and too early for a breakfast, some may say. ‘Pho ganh' clientele just don’t fall into this category. They are all-nighters who watch football matches halfway around the world into the small hours, fans who get kicked out when the bar closes and those willing to cut short their sleep for something worthier. A bowl of ‘pho’ at this time of day tastes better no matter what they say, be it sweaty summer or shivering winter. Some even go to the extreme, slurping ‘pho’ right out of the bowl without securing a table, sometimes under the scolding of the vendor.

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