Toronto Phodown Presents, Eastern Promises Presents: Chin to Chin
A Phodown in Vietnam
Pho Gia Truyen
Address: 49 Bat Dan, Hanoi Vietnam
Date & time of visit: November 22nd 2013 + 8:00pm
Price (only one size): 50,000 dong (~$2.50 CAD)
Broth: 9.5 | Beef: 9 | Noodle: 9.5 | Condiment: 8 | Service/atmosphere: 10 | Overall: 9.2
Broth: 8 | Beef: 9 | Noodle: 9.5 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 10 | Overall: 8.7
Overall Rating: 8.95
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 3.58
Write-up from Jason:
Although I’ve travelled a bit in the Far East, I had never been to Vietnam until now. And let’s be real for a change – I’ve been putting myself out there as a pho expert for quite a while now with little in actual credentials to back up that claim. So it was about time that I tried pho where it was born, because if there was no Vietnam, there would be no pho. And if pho didn’t exist, neither would the phodown. And what kind of pathetic shell of a man would I be in that case?
So, on this day, I finally tried pho’s platonic form, if you will (and please do).
Mikey and I arrived in Hanoi late Thursday afternoon, worked out our visas at the airport and were transported to the highly-recommended Royal Palace Hotel. The friendly hotel manager, Mr. Tong, got us set up, hard sold us on a few tour packages, and treated Mikey and I to a watermelon juice and a lemonade, respectively (and respectfully, for that matter).
After all that preamble, we struck out to a pho restaurant highly recommended by both the internet and Lonely Planet for making what some claim to be the best pho in Hanoi. A true family-run enterprise, here an aging pho master, his wife, and son run a store front with limited seating in Hanoi’s old town. Mikey navigated Hanoi’s labyrinthine side streets ably and we found our way to what I can only describe as the pho Mecca.
Well, I can actually describe it a lot of different ways: white walls with wooden wainscoting; wooden tables and stools; a single fan; an old mission; a man standing behind a tiny stand with dry-aged beef on his right, stock pots furiously boiling on his left nearly overborne by the flames from an overclocked burner; a wife; she plates the noodles, garnishes, pours in the lovingly made broth; he chops raw meat; he chops the dry-aged brisket; he plates the meat; we take the pho to our table.
Simply put, it was the best pho I ever had with Mikey and I agreeing on nearly every component except the broth.
I’ll start with the beef, fresh and plentiful (given the scale of the portion, which was extremely small by western standards but a steal at $2.50 CAD). I couldn’t knock the beef much. Noodles were also near perfection with clumpiness a non-issue and the doneness just shade beyond al dente.
Condiments were the toughest grade for me because I’m used to a very different standard. Northern-style pho is condiment-sparse, while the Southern brews are regularly accompanied by mounds of fresh herbs, peppers and lime. I’ve only been to a Northern pho once before, for the Vancouver Phodown (now defunct). I forget how I dealt with the lack of condiments there yet still held to the empirical rigor of the phodown. Here, I’m aided by the fact that the fried savory doughnuts you can get with pho here are pre-fried and cold (some serve fresh ones), which is an easy downgrade. Still, some homemade chili sauce and freshly chopped yellow and red pepper at the table were a fun way to spice up the pho towards the end of the meal.
Broth is where Mikey and I disagreed most, although we do agree broth is always the most important factor. I gave it a 9.5 and Mikey gave it an 8. His reasoning is that while he’s probably never had better, he can imagine better. Personally, I think this comes down to this being his first phodown.
From my point-of-view, this is my benchmark for broth going forward. The pho-master here has been interviewed before, noting how important the bones are to his enterprise and how hard it is to get it right day after day. He’s dead on. This broth is superb.
The sheer time put into is remarkable, the broth coming out nearly gelatinous in texture, easily the richest I’ve ever had. The balance is also remarkable, the only possible ding coming from a restrained hand with the spicing (although this is a feature of the North as well). The lack of condiments and other spice (cardamom, etc) is overcome by the generous garnish of onion and cilantro, which go no farther than highlighting the complexity of the broth. It’s a masterpiece.
In terms of the always challenging service/atmosphere category, Mikey and I agreed. It’s a ten.
The place is a well-oiled machine. When you go to the restaurant of people so serious about their craft, there is always the danger they’ll be gruff and curmudgeonly (e.g., the Soup Nazi). The family here is friendly and inviting, clearly proud of their creation. The son who brings beer (at ~75 cents a pop) is kind and attentive. And who wouldn’t want to eat pho out of a building that seems like an old church?
Pho Gia Truyen you should get down here and try it for yourself, before they decide to stop making it.