One Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City, Part 3

February 28, 2011

Snacks, Sights and Soup

Spending hours upon hours exploring a foreign city by foot certainly allows you to work up an appetite. The wonderful thing about Vietnam (and Thailand also) is that you are never far from a tasty treat. Sold to you by your local lady or gent, wheeling a cart or carrying a load on their shoulders, you can readily grab a banana, a pork bun, a Vietnamese doughnut or a fresh coconut – whatever your heart desires, take your pick!

We tried these bready sesame snacks from a man with a basket – it sounds dodgy doesn’t it? “A man with a basket”. Anyway, they were essentially little pita pockets that were dotted with sesame seeds. They tasted a tad oily. And slightly stale. Yeah, they weren’t that great. But they were definitely edible…I bet this makes you want to hunt down that man with the basket. We saw them quite a bit actually, so I felt it prudent to give my opinion. I wouldn’t exactly call them a ‘must try’, although Ben didn’t mind them.

Vietnam really aims for subtlety when it comes to electrical work. Clearly it works, see? You can hardly even notice these powerlines

Our First Pho in Vietnam

Ben and I have long been lovers of pho. And so, on our trip to the official Land of Pho, we took our job of eating this epic dish very seriously. I was incredibly keen to try the regional differences in broth, as I have heard that the variations between southern, northern and central of Vietnam are pronounced. We had one day in HCMC (which is located in the south of Vietnam), our first stop in the Country – where were we going to experience our first pho…

With quite a few noted pho shops to choose from, we selected a place that is said to be particularly popular with locals. When overseas, Ben and I live by our ‘eating when travelling credo’: search for, follow and trust the locals!

And so we did…we followed them to Pho Hoa, 260C Pasteur, District 3, where we ordered one Phở bò tái (beef) and one Phở gà (chicken).

This place is an institution, and there were certainly some fabulous features…

The rice noodles were lovely, fresh and slippery – just delightful.

The basil was fresh and fragrant and the vegetables vibrant – fantastic. Apparently in southern Vietnam they add bean shoots and more fresh herbs to their pho, compared to other regions. This was abundantly clear, as our table was overflowing with fresh produce!

The beef was thinly sliced, tender and not overly fatty – impressive (especially since I had been encouraged to not expect too much from the meat in Vietnam).

However in all honesty, we didn’t love the broth. I am aware that this may just be our personal taste, as this haunt has been thriving, selling steaming bowls of pho for over forty years. Yet we found it to be overly sweet and very salty. It was disappointing. I have heard that MSG is used fairly liberally in restaurants across Asia. I am not sure if this is the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was used in this broth. The flavour was too intense – like soup on steroids. We didn’t find it delightful, soulful and nurturing like pho should be, which is such a shame.

We didn’t expect this from a well revered bowl from the motherland. Perhaps we are too stuck on our usual broth back home? I am not sure. I would love to hear if others have experienced this also.

Alongside the pho came pork sausages that were wrapped in banana leaves. After spending a little time researching, I am still not sure of their name. Is anyone familiar?

This was my first time coming across these curious logs, and I found them to be quite tasty, although not what I personally would classify as a necessary accompaniment. Chilli, on the other hand…

So that was our somewhat anti-climactic first pho feature. Perhaps we built up the experience so much in our heads? Perhaps we placed unrealistic expectations upon this humble dish? Or perhaps not…

I like to think that I can demand perfection from my pho. For when it is right, it is utter bliss in a bowl. It is everything you would ever want, and everything you could ever need. Liquid gold.

So I guess, connecting on some sensory level, I’m like a surfer – treading the ripples of the ocean, always in search of that perfect broth.

Heidi xo

p.s. Don’t worry, our pho experience doesn’t end on this muted note. We did experience some incredible bowls in Vietnam. At one point I was so elated I could have cried. But that is for another post…

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  • Phuoc'n Delicious February 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Aww… that's a shame that your first experience of Pho wasn't that great but good to know that you found some good bowls after that..

    I chuckled a few times reading your post, esp seeing those pictures of the power lines!! So funny!

    (hehe.. my word verification was phogu)

  • Hannah February 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    You know, it makes me feel better about the mediocre phos I've had here in Australia if not-awesome versions also exist in Ho Chi Minh! 😛

    Love the tongue-in-cheek comment about tracking down the man with the basket too.

  • Merowyn February 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    God I've had some terrible Pho's…. now we only trust one place haahaha

    Such a shame your first Pho was a let down, I can't wait to hear about the amazing one!!!

  • Heidi February 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Phuoc – haha, love it! Some of those word verifications are great, and this was very topical 🙂 & yes, the powerlines are hilarious/scary!

    Hannah – hehe thanks lovely 😉

    Merowyn – I can't wait to blog about it!

    Heidi xo

  • Hannah February 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Mmmm I love Pho! Pity it was a bit of a letdown- but it's good you had plenty more yummy bowls of it!! It's something I keep forgetting to make- but it's always so nourishing 🙂 Oh I love your overseas posts…makes me wish I was overseas right now though!
    Hannah x

  • The InTolerant Chef February 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I'm glad the whole pho experience wasn't a total bust and you finally found phovana. It can be hard to have high expectations sometimes.

  • Anh March 1, 2011 at 10:36 am

    the pho broth is Ho Chi Minh city tends to be very sweet. Hopefully you got better experience elsewhere (Hanoi perhaps? 🙂

  • Honey @ honeyandsoy March 1, 2011 at 10:52 am

    The fried sesame buns are delish! When they're fresh though… boo. Am keeping lots of notes for our trip to Vietnam one day… how sad about the pho. Massive ??!!! about the powerlines! OMG that's crazy!!!

  • Heidi March 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Hannah – it makes me wish I was back there too! Glad you're enjoying the travel posts 🙂

    InTolerant Chef – yes, high expectations frequently leads to letdowns! I try to not have them going in, but sometimes I can't help myself!

    Anh – yes, the experience was better (personally) more towards the north. Ok, so the sweetness was standard – just my personal preference then!

    Honey – mmm I think the man with the basket did not have the freshest buns haha 😉 and oh yes, the powerlines were crazy!

    Heidi xo

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella March 1, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I had the same sort of reaction when I tried ramen in Tokyo. I loved the ramen we get at Ryo's in Sydney better 🙂

  • msihua March 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Aww… that's dissapointing? Maybe that wasn't the best place for pho? No idea.. I've heard good things about pho in Vietnam…

  • Anna Johnston March 1, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Gawd, me too., I've had some dreadful Pho but that's kinda sad your Vietnam pho didn't rate.

  • Heidi March 2, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Lorraine – good to know it wasn't just me then! 🙂

    I-Hua – yes I think I was just overwhelmed with the sweetness. & my own expectations added on top. Don't worry, we did have some fabulous pho in Vietnam!

    Anna – *sigh* this was sad, but soon enough we were delighted 🙂

    Heidi xo

  • Julia @ Boredom Abounds March 3, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I've never tried Pho, but I've heard so many people rave about it. I'll have to try it out soon, I think!

  • Iron Chef Shellie March 9, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Did those sesame thingo have red bean paste inside? I eat them fresh in malaysia, SUCH a difference to the cold, oily stale ones I get here in Melb 😛 x

  • Heidi March 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Julia – yes you must! It is such a wonderful dish.

    Michele – no they were empty! Perhaps that is why there were a bit blah, they needed a good filling. & yes I don't think they were the freshest buns! 😉

    Heidi xo

  • Phuoc'n Delicious March 29, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Hey! I actually tried this one too and found it to be one of the best ones we had (though I probably tried 6 or 7 places throughout Vietnam).. But like you said, it's down to personal taste. I'm a southern girl so this is what I'm used to. I did find the one in Hanoi to be a little clear and bland, but that's how they do it. Second best one had to be in Nha Trang. I like my broth meaty

  • Heidi March 30, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Hey Phuoc!! Yes I think we were just overwhelmed with the flavour & took the sweetness of the broth as tasting MSG-ish when that was really just the flavour???
    Heidi xo

  • Phuoc'n Delicious March 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I'm pretty sure it was just the flavour. I mean there were alot of vietnamese locals in the restaurant so that was a good sign right? But Pho is a delicate issue, everyone has different tastes.