The best Vietnamese pho soup, Hanoi pho or Saigon pho?
- on Dec 22, 2020       By: BN
Winter is a good reason to warm up to the hot and succulent noodles that a bowl of pho offers you. For those who have had the opportunity to taste Vietnamese pho in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), many recognise a certain disparity between the different versions of the country's two major gastronomic destinations.
Sonny admits he prefers Hanoi pho because of the less sweet broth and the appetising smell of the beef while Andrew likes Saigon pho better for its delicious flavours… Here is a debate over the best Vietnamese pho soup, under the angle of two travellers who fell in love with pho.
Sonny Side is well known as a food blogger who can be followed on his YouTube channel Best Ever Food Review. An expatriate in Saigon, this American traveller regularly shares his videos of culinary experiences, particularly on typical dishes, but also original Vietnamese, attracting millions of views. One of his successes features his experiences on the fabulous Vietnamese pho compiled through his travels in two regions in the North and South of Vietnam. So follow his taste journeys, accompanied by Andrew, his companion to put under the magnifying glass our national dish which is indeed a universal soup.
In the capital, they chose phở Bát Đàn, reputed to be one of the best places to eat pho in Hanoi. In front of this more than 70-year-old restaurant, they advance with patience, of course, in single line like everyone else, evoking, with humour, Vietnamese style, that to eat, you have to go into the kitchen. Pho Bat Dan offers three variations of beef pho, semi-cooked, rare and cooked for a price between 40,000 - 50,000 VND. Sonny and Andrew order two bowls of half cooked beef pho that together cost a total of 100,000 VND.
The Hanoi style pho
The soul of the Vietnamese pho recipe lies, without question, in the broth. Sonny realizes the broth in the north comes from simmered beef bones, onion, and grilled ginger, all seasoned with spices. The ingredients vary in each region.
In Saigon, they opt for Phở Ngọc, a canteen that has been standing for half a century and known for its "endless" bowls. It is also an opportunity for these gourmets to learn about phở gầu and phở nạm. "Nam" means flank meat, tender, rather lean while "gau" is flank meat from the feet to the brisket of the beef, fatter than "nam". According to Sonny, the biggest difference between pho soups in the North and in the South has to do, first of all, with the broth and also the accompanying herbs. While the Saigon pho turns out to be rather sweet, the Hanoi pho is perfectly purer.
>> Read more: Where to go to eat Pho in Hanoi?
On the seasoning side, Hanoian’s mainly decorate the pho with scallions and lemon. The Saigonese, on the other hand, never feast on pho without a basket of vegetables made up of all kinds of aromatic herbs, bean sprouts and lemon. Northern pasta is thinner compared to its southern counterparts. In terms of the broth, this taste of the people of the south is, without doubt, sweeter.
“I think, at first glance, it is easy to conclude that pho in the North wins over pho in the South or on the contrary. In fact, they are two entirely different versions,” according to Sonny. His point of view is also shared by Andrew.
When it comes to choosing the winner, Sonny leans in favour of the Hanoi pho since he likes the less sweet taste. In the capital, this soup entices it with a delicious scent of beef although the southern version entices it with overflowing herbs, conducive to balancing the calorie content of the noodles and the meat, according to Sonny. The other foodie Andrew takes issue with his friend's opinion which he says is almost personal. As for him, he prefers Saigon pho.
The Saigon style pho
Sonny previously interviewed Peter Franklin, chef of a pho restaurant in Saigon, about the peculiarities of this famous soup in two regions. Peter reveals that pho in the North requires a long and refined organisation, the ingredients of which are largely prepared manually. The broth is ideally made from a traditional charcoal stove. The making and cutting of pasta is not to be outdone, all carried out according to artisanal steps. In the South, we prefer a bowl of pho garnished with different ingredients, which gives it a more colourful recipe and abundant flavours.
Sonny shows himself to be a connoisseur of Vietnamese pho by surveying several regions to test a wide choice of variants, from pho chien (fry) to pho kho (dry) to pho xao (stir-fry). One version that particularly impresses him is the one tasted in a mountainous region in the Northwest. There, he experienced an atypical culinary escape by tasting, for the first time, a pho with pink-coloured noodles in a sweet broth, with added local sausages and bean sprouts.
Where you meet the Vietnamese, is where the pho will be found. A symbol of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, this dish has its own day, December 12, adopted by the newspaper Tuoi tre during a seminar in its homage bringing together a large number of lovers of Vietnamese pho.
And you, what is your opinion? Pho in Saigon or Hanoi is the best? Another idea?
Pho Ngoc: alley 30 Hao Hon Lake, Cau Kho, 1st district, Ho Chi Minh City
Pho Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
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