20 Apr Phở-nomenal: The Many Types of Phở in Hanoi, Vietnam
Historians say that phở got its start in and around Hanoi at the turn of the century. So when we visited earlier this month, sampling the phở was high on our to do list. What we didn’t realize is that the Vietnamese noodle soup we’re familiar with from back home is just one kind of phở. The word phở actually refers to the noodle itself, and there are several ways to prepare it.
During our stay in Hanoi, our friends introduced us to four different phở dishes: Phở (noodle soup), Phở cuốn (rolls), Phở chien (deep fried squares), and Phở xao (fried noodles).
Phở #1: Rice noodle soup
We got the noodle soup just a short walk down the street from our friends’ home, at a hole-in-the-wall type place. Each soup was no more than $1 US.
Unlike the phở we get at home, which we’re told probably more closely resembles southern Vietnamese style (because that’s where most Vietnamese-Americans emigrated from), the soup was much simpler. It’s just broth, which had been steeping in a large vat all day; the rice noodles; and beef, which quickly cooked itself in the bowl. There was no side condiments like bean sprouts or basil. Also, no hoisin (black bean) sauce. Instead, we ordered these airy, fried sticks which softened up as they soaked in the broth. The flavors were slightly muted compared to what we’re used to, but still absolutely delicious.
#2: Phở cuốn
One night, our friends took us out for more of “street food” restaurant experience. This is where we got to try phở cuốn and phở chien with some refreshing limeade.
Phở cuốn is essentially beef and lettuce wrapped in a wide phở noodle, which you dip in a light fish sauce. The flavors are really different from the soup, since this is more of a salad roll, but we enjoyed this version a lot.
#3: Phở chien
In this version of phở, also served at the street-side place, the rice noodle is cut into squares and deep fried. Served again with beef as well as bok choy and a little black pepper. This variety was probably our least favorite out of the four, but it was still good.
#4: Phở xao
The fourth and final dish we tried in Hanoi was a home-made version of phở xao, which uses the same noodle cut as the soup but the noodles are stir-fried and there is no broth. Beef and bok choy were toppings with a few condiments like lime and peppers.
Like many of the other home-made Vietnamese dishes we got to partake in, it was served family style so each person could put whatever they wanted into their own bowl. We really enjoyed the noodles served this way, although if we made this dish on our own, we’d probably want to add some kind of sauce.
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