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‘As a long-time southerner, and Australian expat, my heart goes to Vietnam's southern pho’

Monday, April 05, 2021, 13:14 GMT+7
‘As a long-time southerner, and Australian expat, my heart goes to Vietnam's southern pho’
An illustration photo shows 'pho' topped with flank steak and beef meatballs and served with mung bean sprouts, herbs, and chili and hoisin sauces at a restaurant in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Son Luong / Tuoi Tre

Editor's note:The story below is written by Ray Kuschert, who is from Australia, in response to Tuoi Tre News' discussion on pho in the north and the south of Vietnam. The story was edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.

From the perfect 'hangover cure' to the best breakfast in town, pho is known worldwide as the most quintessential Vietnamese meal, and a fix-all home remedy for good health. However, outside this country, little is known about the variations, flavors and types of pho that exist in the local provinces all over Vietnam.

The essential ingredients in pho across the country don’t change all that much. They include piping hot water, with spices mixed into it to create a soup broth, noodles, onions, chicken or beef, and some local inclusions, depending on if you are eating the northern or southern pho.

As a long-time southerner, and Australian expat, my introduction to pho was built around the southern version. The base of spices is a hot soup that teases the nose on a hot street corner. The noodles and meat swim in the soup waiting for the last touch, your own input with lime, sauce and herbs added to complete your personal meal.

However, the southern version has one special ingredient that is arguably the best part that separates it from the northern pho, the green herbs. There is nothing more enjoyable than receiving a bucket of local green herbs and plants that you can add to the broth in your own way. Finally, add 'tuong den (hoisin sauce)' and chili to your pho, and you have a mixture of flavors that are world-class for less than two dollars.

Australian Ray Kuschert is putting veggies into his bowl of pho in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Ray Kuschert puts veggies into his bowl of pho in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

My personal favorite in Ho Chi Minh City is the iconic Pho Binh at 9 Ly Chinh Thang Street in District 3. This historic site has served their aromatic blend of southern-style pho for over 50 years. Every time you go there you have a choice of chicken or beef and receive the biggest bucket of green herbs. After you take a minute or two to add all your personal options to the bowl, the noodles and meat seem to be hidden by the masses of greenery packed in at the top of the bowl and it tastes delicious.

Strangely, another favorite pho experience comes, not in Vietnam, but in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Parramatta is a large city on the fringe of Sydney. Near the train station is Pho Pasteur, taking the name of the famous pho restaurant here in Ho Chi Minh City, and they not only serve pho but a range of Vietnamese foods. On my visits back to Australia, I always make sure I visit the restaurant and enjoy a pretty good southern-style pho, with a little Australian influence. The cold winter nights are often warmer with a big hot bowl of pho to help me turn my mind to getting back to Vietnam and to the people I love and miss when I am away.

As a southerner, the 'Hanoi-style' pho is one that seems a little boring, but it does have its own special touch. The broth has a distinctly different flavor, being saltier and not as sweet, with a number of minor, yet significant, variations to the southern dish. There is also an egg, similar to a poached egg, that is sometimes heated in a separate dish of the boiling broth mixture and many people talk about the unique chili sauce that is often made in the restaurant. Another addition to the northern pho is the 'cheo quay,' a deep-fried bread stick that you soak in the broth as you eat. Some say it’s a little oily, but it definitely makes it into a full meal.

Avoiding the conflict of suggesting that northern pho is not actually pho, many southern Vietnamese often comment how the northern version actually uses a different type of noodles, being bigger than the southern noodles, in the traditional food. This brings a different texture to the dish and adds yet another level of originality to the local food. Is it better? Well, that will never be agreed upon in this country.

First experiencing pho in my home country of Australia, where many southern Vietnamese settled in the 1970s and 1980s, and having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for the best part of a decade, my absolute preference is the southern version of pho. I really value the taste variation of the herbs and endless green leaves that can be added to the dish. It really gives it a clean and fresh taste and I know it's about as healthy as you will get in any noodle dish worldwide. 

Ray Kuschert

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