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Vietnam’s northern vs. southern 'pho': There's no point in debating which is better

Thursday, April 08, 2021, 11:28 GMT+7
Vietnam’s northern vs. southern 'pho': There's no point in debating which is better
An illustration photo shows a bowl of pho served in Vietnamese southern style, with herbs, chili and hoisin sauces, at a pho stall in Ho Chi Minh City's District 12. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

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

The first time I tried pho was back in 2003 when I was studying in Melbourne.

My Vietnamese classmate from Deakin University brought me to a restaurant along Bridge Road in Richmond District.

At that moment, I discovered that pho was the perfect comfort food during the mid-year winter season in Australia.

It was soupy, hearty, and refreshing.

These days, I often have pho for dinner because it is much lighter than my favourite com tam (broken rice) or com chien (fried rice) and I will have pho cravings especially during the rainy seasons when it’s cold outside.

Having lived in Saigon for about eight years, I have eaten in excess of 100 bowls of pho.

While the beef and chicken pho are both delicious, my favourite version of the dish would be the pho tai bo vien (pho served with beef slices and beef meatballs) with an abundance of coriander leaves, two slices of lime, and lots of garlic.

I have visited Hanoi twice but the pho there was a little light for my taste.

A photo provided by Darren Chua shows his favorite pho tai bo vien (pho beef slices and beef meatballs).

A photo provided by Darren Chua shows his favorite pho tai bo vien (pho served with beef slices and beef meatballs) in Saigon.

When I read the article regarding 'northern pho vs. southern pho,' it reminds me of a similar age-old argument from my hometown which is “Did Hainan Chicken rice originate from Singapore or Malaysia?” Being a Singaporean, and having eaten it since youth, I believe it is Singaporean.

My favourite chicken rice in Saigon is from 'Com ga Hai Nam Singapore' on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, District 10.

I have tried many other chicken rice alternatives but they do not satisfy me. This is only my personal opinion.

What is my point in saying all that?

First, our childhood directly affects our opinion.

The author of a social media post criticising southern pho who is from the north clearly grew up eating northern pho and thus had an expectation that the dish should taste like the northern style, just as I expect all Hainanese chicken rice varieties should taste like the Singapore version.

I cannot say pho in the south is better than in the north simply because I live in Saigon and my taste will be more suited to the southern variety.

There is an English saying, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” There is no point in debating which is better.

People need to accept there is a difference. Each type of pho is especially suitable for the people living in that region and 'tourists' are welcomed to enjoy as well.

A close-up shot shows the square-shape noodles used in southern-style pho, which are different from the flat noodles used in northern-style pho. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

A close-up shot shows the square-shape noodles used in southern-style pho, which are different from the flat noodles used in northern-style pho. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

On an additional note, in recent years, there has been a significant rise in Vietnamese influence in Singapore.

Those living in Singapore can also enjoy a bowl of pho at one of the many Vietnamese restaurants such as 233 Banh Mi, Lang Nuong Vietnam, Mrs Pho, Super Ngon, SG Pho House, So Pho, and more.

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Darren Chua

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