Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Destination Vietnam #2: Pho 24
I learned much about myself on this trip to South East Asia. For one thing, I discovered that my personality is just not the backpacking type. On my travels, my friends and I continually encountered teachers, social workers, students, and other free spirits (read: unemployed), youth touring countries on one-way tickets. They showed a bravery of risk, roaming with no set plans, waking up at three in the afternoon. Nope, that kind of guideless meandering isn't for me. Just open my Lonely Planet and point me towards the nearest recommended restaurant.
As far as I could tell, Pho 24 is the largest pho chain in Vietnam. With locations scattered throughout Hanoi and Saigon, it's difficult to explore either of the large cities without running into the green neon sign of glowing bowl and chopsticks. Due to my experience in the States, I was completely accustomed to eating my pho in numerically distinguishable restaurants.
I'll save a big lesson on what pho actually is. Suffice it to say, these noodles have become so common that even those with a cursory exposure to Vietnamese food is familiar with pho. I will make a note on pronounciation though. Pho is easiest pronounced as an approximation of "fuh" rather than "fo" as in "photo."
I tried the pho bo, the most common beef broth pictured above. Impressions? It really is reminiscent of the pho available in the US. I really couldn't distinguish any major differences in flavors. Even the plate of accoutrements consisted of familiar items. I've heard that the difference between Northern and Southern pho is in the purity of the broth in the North. What's purity to one palate, may be blandness to another. However, I couldn't tell any big differences between North and South to be honest.
On another occasion I also tried the pho ga, chicken broth pho. This was actually my first encounter with chicken noodles. I can easily say that my preference is bovine. Pho ga has a much lighter flavor, not really what I look for in pho.
Of course, as a chain, Pho 24 has all the benefits and all the drawbacks of a franchise. Each one I encountered were clean, had an English menu, and helpfully trained staff. There is certainly consistency bowl by bowl. In exchange, you pay a premium compared to the street. Is it worth the extra cost for some comfort and peace of mind? Depending on the circumstances, I'd say so. Just don't rely only on chains for your food experience.