I have heard many people speaking about the famous Pho Hao at Pasteur Street. It is the baller Eponymous Pho outlet in Ho Chi Minh city, the real deal I am given to understand.
My vietnamese colleagues during lunch had tried to temper my expectations. Every country I go to I get a sense that my local partners think I’m a princess – they keep talking about the high end establishments and always look at me doubtfully when I enquire about street food or their local joints .
My Vietnamese partners told me the food was good at Pho Hoa but there would be a smell . “A bad smell ?” I asked. “Food smell” they said because ventilation is wanting.
I was undeterred. The prospect of a pair of coy doe-eyed Vietnamese Virgin twins nuzzling my neck this evening was bleak. I could risk the smells.
And I had to take matters into my own hands. My Vietnamese partners had, with the best of intentions, brought me to the doyen of all things Vietnamese for lunch. Yes – you guessed it. Crystal Jade Lol (Crystal Jade is a Chinese restaurant that started from Singapore).
So there I was that evening.
I stared at the establishment and felt optimism washing through me.
I was disappointed in previous trips when I went to Pho 2000, the chain that became famous because Bill Clinton raved about it. Pho 2000 was a sanitized soulless tourist joint and I thought the food was mediocre.
Pho Hoa was, however, a nostalgic flashback to the 5Os. The signboard was quite hipster with bold red and gold lettering but once you entered, it was a trip to nostalgia lane. Old school melamine cutlery, white stone table tops, a scattering of old photographs of the owners adorned the faded walls . They even had the requisite red garish altars crowning the wooden cashier point.
Orders were being communicated in a sing song fashion. The only thing lacking was the blaring Vietnamese communist songs.
I was moved. The next time I come I will wear my viet cong straw rice hat and blood red Vietnamese TShirt as a homage to them. I will bring tears to their eyes.
Phuc Yu Bich, the surly head waiter, stared at me with even slittier beadier eyes than mine. I wanted to hug him but refrained.
Actually he was quite warm when I started ordering the whole shop with a great deal of pointing, nodding and guttural sounds. He didn’t give a shit that I did not understand and communicated to me in fluent Vietnamese the whole time, which I found quite hilarious.
I looked deep into his eyes and nodded sagely to everything he said. We actually had a conversation in Vietnamese in which I didn’t understand a single word he said . There was peace in the cosmos and the stars were aligned.
Funnily enough, at 7pm when I sat down, the shop was relatively empty. I chose the row right in the middle of the shop where 3 to 4 tables were joined. I had the whole row to myself. The table was warmly set with condiments galore.
First came the Amy Yip Pao. The dough was soft and yielding when I made playful nips into it . The patty was juicy enough but I wouldn’t swoon over it. But a few bites later, a pleasant surprise unfolded. There was a whole salty egg yolk inside and a small quail’s egg rolled out. Damn – that just makes me happy.
The Pho arrived. The appearance was pleasing enough from a cook’s point of view. The Broth looked rich but clear with a few droplets of oil lazily skimming the surface amidst a mellifluous garden of spring onions and sliced onions. Blushing pink beef peeked out coyly that looked as soft as a baby’s bottom.
Different parts of the Beast of burden bellowed to me, nestled amongst the folds of pho swimming in the bowl of perfection.
I did the Honours. Squeezed a lime in, plucked a right amount of sweet basil, avoided the tau gay like the plague, was about to squirt the brown and red sauce in but thought better and mixed if in a small bowl which they had thoughtfully placed on the table. The potent sliced red and innocent looking but wicked light green chillies were mixed into the sauce.
I closed my eyes at the first few sips to shut out the world and the cacophonous surroundings. The Broth was clear, fresh as dew uplifted by the hint of fresh basil but what followed was a orgasmic wave of flavours, undulating and seductive.
There was “Hoa” (meaning harmony) in the universe.
I was halfway through the bowl when the Spice Girls arrived. 5 or 6 old Vietnamese ladies all in their 60s to 70s cackled into the establishment and nestled their way right into the table next to mine. They were chattering in loud Vietnamese, completely oblivious to those around them, while surveying the menu and barking their orders to Phuc Yu Bich.
They were probably discussing which club to hit after the meal. They looked like they would rave and do house music.
Like the polite boy that I was, I gave a nodding smile when they nodded and smiled in my direction, no doubt impressed by the mountain of food on my table and possibly my chiselled frame.
By that time, I had abandoned my first bowl of Pho and was attacking my second bowl of beef soup sans Pho. I could have sworn I heard the word “Phat Boy” but I couldn’t be sure.
There was this greenish thing on the table covered in banana leaf which I eyed suspiciously but didn’t touch. The spice girls were unwrapping it with gusto and out popped a white phallic thingy.
It was a white Dong.
Spice girls caught me staring and started nibbling their dongs, some I thought too suggestively but maybe I was just being sensitive.
Scary spice seated right next to me and close enough to rub my shins picked up a dong and pushed it in my direction and gave me a thumbs up sign.
She wanted me to unwrap my dong and eat it.
I was conflicted.
We had just met barely 10 minutes ago.
Was I being too forward? Will she respect me in the morning ?
I can just picture Russell Peters pointing and saying “be a man”. I duly complied and bit my dong.
I smiled weakly to them and gave a thumbs up signal. It was some sort of fishcake and went quite well with the Broth.
I left Pho Hoa with a spring in my step and a dong in my belly. It was a beautiful experience and I will be back.
The place was packed and jumping when I was leaving. I waved to Phuc Yu Bich and stepped out into the weary starry night.
Pho Hoa Pasteur
260C Pasteur Street
Ward 8, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Phone: (08) 38297943