Yesterday we said goodbye to Vietnam with one last bowl of pho.
Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’), a Vietnamese rice noodle soup, has been a favorite dish of mine since I first discovered it while living in Seattle. Seattle is full of Vietnamese pho shops, and the soup makes for a perfect lunch on a cold, wet day. I couldn’t wait to get to Vietnam to eat a bowl of my favorite soup.
One month ago we crossed the boarder from Laos and entered the Vietnamese town of Dien Bien Phu, hungry and ready for pho. Unfortunately, our first bowl wasn’t great. The cook at the tiny lunch spot we stopped in made our pho from two bags of pre-packaged ramen-noodles and spices. We left unsatisfied.
We arrived in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, hopeful that a delicious bowl of pho was waiting for us. But again, we were disappointed after trying out a recommended restaurant. This bowl was better than the last, but still lacked that pho taste that we’d grown to love. I got worried. Was the pho I regarded as the famous Vietnamese dish at home an Americanized version of the real thing? Was calling pho ‘Vietnamese’ like calling Taco Bell ‘Mexican’? Delicious, yes, but not traditional?
But then we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known (and still referred to by locals) as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant metropolis unlike Hanoi. Right away, the contrast between Northern and Southern Vietnam became evident. The buildings were bigger, the pace was faster and the pho was exactly what we were looking for. As we sat down at a food stall in the heart of Saigon, we ordered two bowls of pho and instantly recognized the familiar tastes of the soup we know and love. In the North, pho was lacking the plate of garnishes and sauces that, when added, really enhance the flavor. In Saigon, when our waitress brought out two bowls of freshly prepared pho and a plate full of basil, lime, chili and hoisin sauce, we knew it’d be good. And it was.
We said goodbye to Vietnam with one last bowl of pho at that little food stall in Saigon we frequented regularly during our visit. Pho-king delicious!