Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pho Expedition

“Customer for Pho? Please come in”

I didn’t discover this "secret" pho place by accident – though I wish I did or at least could get away by saying that (that would have been more dramatic, isn't it?) – but rather, an article at Saveur pointed me to this pho stall at an upstairs apartment inside a run-down building in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. I was able to find the place easily, thanks to the article with detailed directions and pictures of the street signs, and arrived at the right time too, between 3-7:30pm as that’s the only time the place was open for business.

Pho Hong Trong was not the first bowl of pho I had whilst in Hanoi, but the only one I repeated. I was determined to try as many Vietnamese street food as I physically can within the 3 days I was in town, so in one afternoon under the sweltering heat, I came over to check the place out. From the outside, through a rather dark alleyway in between two souvenir stalls, there’s little indication to show there’s something worth visiting in there, except a red sign hanging on the tree that said “Customer for Pho? Please come in” (written in Vietnamese) and a similar sign inside the poorly-lit alley next to the staircase, pointing upwards indicating the direction. I followed, walked up and upstairs there’s a little courtyard and on the other side, a small room with a few plastic tables and chairs with people eating. Apparently that’s the stall owner’s own living room, which was turned into a makeshift dining area for customers during the day.

I followed what everyone’s doing by taking off my shoes, walked inside and found an empty spot to sit down. Soon my bowl of noodles arrived – there’s no menu and that’s what everyone’s having so I assumed that’s the only thing they served. The bowl came in very decent size, with the noodles served in a clear broth, a few pieces of thinly-sliced beef and plenty of herbs on top, with chili sauce and pickled garlic available in jars on the table. It only took one sip of the broth to know I have come to the right place – it’s deceivingly clear yet packed with meaty flavor without a hint of oiliness. The beef was of the leaner type yet it’s very tender, and the herbs accompanied well with the noodles not overpowering it like many does. I felt I could have eaten bowls after bowls without feeling bloated.

First day the place was packed, mostly with locals minding their own business (and the bowl of noodles) and also there’s a pair of tourists from San Francisco who read the same article as I did and came checked out the place. I sat down, enjoyed my bowl of noodles and quickly left.

When I found out I managed to have a couple more hours to spare the next day before having to rush to the airport, I decided to come back, and this time, I had the dining area all by myself (and the kid who lives there who hang out on the daybed in the living room). My second bowl of pho was just as good as the first, and this time, I also asked for a bowl of deep-fried fritter to go with the bowl using my totally broken Vietnamese ("Quay?" - I don't even know whether I said it correctly but anyway I got what I anted) and managed to check out the small kitchen that the shopowner (Ms Minh) works in and to be able to tell her (through another customer who translated for me) how much I enjoyed her noodles. She seems happy that someone came from far away to taste her food and like – I was happy too, to be able to do just that.

When? May 15 and 16 2018
Where? Pho Hang Trong (Follow the sign through 8 Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi)
Menu Highlights? Bowl of Pho Bo

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