Phở varieties

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A bowl of phở chua (sour phở) costs VND35,000 at a restaurant in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

In Ho Chi Minh City, which boasts numerous phở restaurants, it is quite easy to find one that suits one's tastes and purse from street pushcarts that sell a bowl of phở at less than a dollar to air-conditioned ones that charge much more.

But to have phở chua, a sour variety of phở from the northern highlands province of Lang Son, Saigonese have only one choice: a little restaurant located near Ban Co Market in District 3.

Unlike traditional phở, which is a bowl of hot broth with the noodles and other goodies, the noodles and hot soup are not mixed to make phở chua but instead they come in two separate bowls.

The noodles are placed on a layer of cucumber slices, water morning glory, and herbs. On top come shredded chicken and pork heart, tongue, and stomach, and then peanuts, fried sliced onion, green papaya slices, and finally the sauce that gives the food the name phở chua. Instead of sugar vinegar and tomatoes used in the original version in Lang Son, the sauce here gets the sour taste from tamarind.

On every table at the restaurant is a big bowl of crackling mixed with chili that is quite spicy and fatty, but an indispensable accompaniment for phở chua.

Before having the noodles, put in a few pieces of crackling. After finishing the bowl of noodles, do not forget the smaller bowl of hot chicken-based broth served with chopped spring onion, fried onion, and pepper powder.

Another famous specialty at the restaurant is bánh giò a pyramid-shaped rice dumpling stuffed with minced pork, Jew's ear mushroom, and, sometimes, quail eggs.

The rice cake is wrapped skillfully in banana leaves, has thick stuffing, and is served hot, remarkably with fish sauce mixed with vinegar, sugar, and lime juice to infuse a sweet-sour taste. The sauce also has minced pork, shredded mushroom, fried onion, and coriander.

The additions make the restaurant's bánh giò distinctive.

Founded by a couple in 1954, the restaurant is always crowded during the limited time it opens 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day. It often closes on Monday, but sometimes for a few days and without notice.

Dry phở

Another variety of phở found in Saigon is phở khô (dry phở) from the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai

Phở chua Lạng Sơn
242/101 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, Ward 3, District 3
Open hours: 3:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m.
Price: phở chua (VND35,000), bánh giò (VND17,000)

Phở khô Gia Lai Hồng
72 Cuu Long Street, Ward 15, District 10
114 Phan Xich Long Street, Ward 2, Phu Nhuan District
Open hours: 6:30 a.m. 10 p.m.
Price: VND35,000

Like phở chua, this one is also served in two bowls: one with the noodles, minced pork, vegetables and bean sprouts, all dipped in hot water before serving, and the other with a hot broth with beef or chicken. Thus, it is also called phở 2 tô (two bowls).

Despite also being made from rice flour, the noodles are not soft and flat as usual but are thin and quite tough.

To eat phở khô, first pour some soya sauce into the noodle bowl, squeeze some lime juice, put in a few slices of chili, some herbs, and black sauce, and stir well.

The Gia Lai Hồng Restaurant in District 10, one of the few shops selling phở khô in HCMC, advises customers to eat the noodles and the broth at the same time. The beef and herbs must be dipped together in the black sauce before eating.

The District 10 outlet is one of two Hồng Restaurants in HCMC, the other being in Phu Nhuan District. The main one is in Gia Lai and is run by the daughter of Nguyen Thanh My, who created the dish many years ago.

Another place in the city to have the Gia Lai specialty is Trung Nguyen Coffee outlets.

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