yellow periscope vietnam trip travel food eating pho saigon ho chi minh

Eating Vietnam’s National Dish – Pho

Why did we choose Vietnam? We could have traveled one of the many European countries that are still on our must-visit list. Why Vietnam?  The answer lies in Mahesh’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) 4 years back for a business meeting. He was instantly bowled over by the food and something about the culture had an inexplicable spell on him. And then he knew he had to share it with the Yellow Periscope team.

 


First things First

As soon as we landed in Ho Chi Minh City we did what is befitting its famed cuisine. Not withstanding the new language, we half-figured how to use a local taxi app and headed to a local eatery that was recommended by Mahesh’s vietnamese ex-colleagues.

Finding a place he visited 4 years ago was an adventure that made him all the more excited when we finally found it. Our goal was to avoid the touristy joints and we knew it was achieved when we saw how popular the place was with locals. This made the experience truly authentic.


Food is a language we all understand

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho menu wall poster
The first thing that cast a spell on us was a giant menu on the wall. A visually elaborate and explicit wall menu almost the size of a poster was set for the table along with handcrafted wooden chopsticks and sauces. This visual menu helped us understand combinations and make our choices faster. Now you know the power of infographics for a business presentation.

 

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant greens herbs
While we were still gawking at pictures on the wall menu, a waiter kept some wet wipes (this was a norm everywhere we went), along with a plate full of garden-fresh assorted greens on our table. We looked around to see what others were doing with it. Mahesh explained that these herbs were for garnishing our pho. The greens were asian basil, rice paddy herb, saw tooth coriander and vietnamese lemon mint. Soon after, bean sprouts, chili peppers and lemon wedges were served.

Unphogetable!

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant
Our perfect bowls of pho arrived! The stock is the real base of pho which is prepared meticulously by simmering beef bones in water for many hours and adding ingredients and spices such as onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon stick, black cardamom. Beef pho (Phở bò) is the popular choice but chicken pho (Phở gà) is also on the menu where the stock is made from chicken bones and served with shredded steamed chicken.

 

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant
Along with broth and sliced meat, there were rice noodles and finely chopped green onions added to it. We each ordered a different version of Pho.

 

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant
In true southern style we garnished our pho with mung bean sprouts and added a variety of herbs to adjust the flavor as desired. Lastly, almost like a step-by-step ritual, we added some chili pepper and a dash of lime.

 

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant Saigon beer
We ordered Saigon beer that pairs perfectly well with pho but were surprised to find that instead of chilling the bottle beforehand, ice cubes had been added into our beer mugs.

 

vietnam trip experience food national dish pho local restaurant
Now for the final rite of passage: Gradually, with a spoon, we savored the stock and then in a skilled maneuver with chopsticks, proceeded to pick a combination of noodles and meat. In an act of refined balance, we put these in our mouth. Slurping was normal and indicated we were relishing the meal. Mahesh and Dhruv completely enjoyed their performance while Sapna wanted to give up halfway and start eating it with her hands, like Indian food. Tasting each version with its different taste and flavors, we were finally introduced to why pho is considered the essence of Vietnamese cuisine.

 

 

“When practiced to its fullest, mindful eating turns a simple meal into a spiritual experience, giving us a deep appreciation of all that went into the meal’s creation as well a deep understanding of the relationship between the food on our table, our own health, and our planet’s health.”

– ‘Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life’, book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist.

 

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