One Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City, Part 3
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.
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...