Tag Archives: Pho

Little Vietnam in Prague. Finding Pho.

My favourite dish in the entire world is Pho. First discovered when I was just nineteen and wide eyed in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Min city, after finding my way to the city’s famous Pho 2000. After that I could, and would, quite happily eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A bottle of Tiger on the side and I’m in heaven.             

You can find somewhere serving Pho almost everywhere in the world. In Sydney, for the best and most authentic head to Cabramatta. In London? Head straight to Shoreditch. For the past two weeks I have been craving it more then usual. Most of my Sydney expat friends in London just happen to be of Vietnamese origin, all their parents being born and raised in Vietnam. So it wasn’t just me that was constantly craving a bowl of Pho, or a plate of Summer Rolls – I’m just the only one who is white. So for the past few weeks I had been sending regular messages; “Pho this week?” Though true to London form, making plans isn’t as easy as it should be. So off I set for a week in Prague still thirsty for soup.

One late morning a few days later however, I came across a market which really wouldn’t have looked out of place in any Vietnamese town I have ever been to. Squeezed inbetween stalls selling cheap knives and fake Calvin Klein underwear is where I found a tiny little shop, consisting of a two burner stove, a drinks fridge and a woodern board with a menu. I smelt it before I saw it, coming from a huge pot of broth on the stove; Beef Pho.

In front of the ‘open kitchen’ where several long communal tables with bench seats. Above then sat a wooden board with the menu, in Vietnamese and Czech, though it didn’t matter that I couldn’t read either of them. “One beef Pho please. Oh, and this beer”, opening the fridge and holding up a can of Czech Kozel. Proper South East Asian service; ‘Relaxed’.
  
It came out quickly enough and though it didn’t have a side plate of the usual bean sprouts, basil and mint, it was accompanied by some lemons and a chili and garlic oil. And of course a bottle of chilli sauce. The soup had the usual rice noodles and coriander, though it was a bit light on the spring onions – my favourite part. The broth however was clear, a slight layer of fat sat on top, and was just what I wanted.

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Though not my usual Tiger, I sipped the beer and slurped my soup in the warm and slightly humid weather. Around me small children wander around, their parents minding their respective stalls, Vietnamese chatting and laughter, it felt like being back in South East Asia even though I was as far away from there as I could get. Craving satisfied.

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Soup in Chiang Rai

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In the centre of Chiang Rai, Thailand, there sits a giant outdoor food court, where you can buy everything from 100 year old eggs and every deep fried insect imaginable to ‘fresh’ sushi – though I would advise against the sushi, on the basis of it’s freshness, considering as the nearest ocean is quite a way away. But don’t worry, there is plenty of other fresh goodness to be found in the stalls which border the large court, which accommodates hundreds of tables and chairs, and tourists and locals alike to fill them.

If you want super fresh, and super delicious, I would go for this Pho style soup which you get to create yourself. You go up and order, telling the stall’s staff where you are sitting, and in no time they appear with the burning embers, a pot of soup base, meat, and your fresh ingredients for you to add as you please. They set it up for you, and away you go!

529262_10101439010952399_886633938_nA friend and I eagerly watching our pot being set up, while we continue on our entree of fried critters!

Yeah, the place is kind of dodgy to Western standards, and the tables aren’t the cleanest, but if you want authenticity and want to eat where the locals do, this is the place. There are plenty of food stalls, and even if you don’t want to give everything a taste, there is lots to be intrigued by. Plus, they put on a traditional Thai dance show on stage every evening!

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The Best Vietnamese In London

In Canada Water, London, there is car park which acts predominately for a randomly placed movie theatre, and next to the theatre is a Pizza Hut. Way across the other side of the large concreted area is a gated brick building. This is Cafe East, the best Vietnamese in London. And if you manage to find it, you are in for a treat!

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Whether you have had the chance to experience real, fresh Vietnamese itself in Vietnam, you love good, fresh Asian food, or a a first timer, this is the place to go. Just beyond the gates is a alfresco garden, used mainly for the tens of people which are always present, holding numbered tickets, waiting to be seated. Don’t let this put you off, I have never had to wait for more then 10 minutes for a table. Inside it is chock-a-block full of Vietnamese families and groups, and they are loud, but that just adds to the atmosphere, right?

First of all, they only take cash. A huge inconvenience in today’s society I know. Why would anyone not bother excepting card is lost on me, but it doesn’t seem to affect their business one bit. Secondly, they don’t serve tap water. Again, annoying, but in this case it doesn’t matter. Their traditional Vietnamese drinks are that amazing you don’t mind paying for several of them.

So once your seated (if you are a group of two and it is particularly busy you may be asked if it’s okay to share a table with another couple) you are given your menus and left to decide. I am not one to order the same thing when I go out, in fact I never do it…except here. As I usually eat there with my friend Karl, this is our standard order:

2 Vietnamese Iced Coffees (To start with. By the time the bills arrives to count is usually at six.)

1 Spicy Rare Pho Pho Tai (For myself)

1 Welldone Pho Pho Chin (For Karl)

1 Serve of Spring Rolls

1 Serve of Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls

994598_10152814881438539_361387599_nOur Pho and the remainder of our spring rolls.

So if you like spring rolls, (which who doesn’t?) then obviously get them. I’m not a huge deep fried food person, and after a trip to South East Asia (where they aren’t to big on the idea of actually letting the oil drain before serving) over a year ago when I ate so many spring rolls I put myself off them, this was the first time since that trip which I have had one; and they didn’t disappoint. They were great! Fresh spring rolls however, I could eat every day! I’m very judgemental on fresh spring rolls. When in Hoi An I took part in a cooking class and made the most amazing fresh spring rolls I have ever tasted in my entire life. I also received the recipe from the Vietnamese chef (I may need to make these soon!) So let’s just say that anything else has a tough competition to beat…but these come pretty damn close. A lot of places can do fresh spring rolls so, so wrong, so it is really nice when you can get some and it feels like you are back on a beach in Na Trang, eating them freshly made and enjoying everything there is about your life in that particular moment.

Then there is the pho! (Pronounced fur. Trust me) Easily one of my favourite foods in the entire world! When ordered you receive your soup base, which contains beef, vermicelli noodles and a few shallots for garnish. On the side they present a plate over-flowing with bean sprouts, mint, lemon, lettuce and chilli. All of which you add to the soup at your own desire! I get the spicy soup, though it is proper Asian style spicy. The chilli isn’t over powering where you can’t taste anything and your mouth is on fire. No, there is a heat and you can still taste every other flavour in the bowl, you just get a bit flustered and start to sweat (I love that feeling). Though if your not use to Asian types of spicy but still want some heat, I recommend just getting the plain based pho and adding the freshly chopped chilli to your liking. Once you try a proper pho you will understand why I love it so much. It’s light and fresh, absolutely packed full of flavour, yet really expectantly filling.

1239478_10152814882513539_1819401189_nYeah, it’s really fucking good! Annnnnd, I’m the only white person in the entire restaurant.

This is also the place where you can get an amazing standard of coffee! Their Vietnamese Ice Coffee is the best, and strongest I have been able to find so far while here! Even if your not a coffee drinker, you need to try this!

So there you go! My favourite place for Vietnamese in London. Although, yes, the food is amazing, I think I also love going their because being in an environment like that brings back a lot of memories of an amazing country. I think anyone who has ever been to Vietnam knows what I’m talking about.