A BRISTLY QUESTION
Asking someone whether Northern Pho is better than Southern Pho is like making a declaration about the best Char Siew in Kuala Lumpur. Even the nicest people will go into caustic sneering Aunty mode, and you may be met with derision, incredulity and maybe even hostility. It is a topic that is emotional, personal, sacrilegious even.
Much like Trump’s policies.
I’m not even going to attempt to articulate the differences between the two. I have seen the strident rebuttals on the net when someone attempts to delve into the intricacies.
Such bristling rebuttals often start with “I was born and bred in Vietnam “ which literally translated means “F*¥€ u bitch for even attempting to speak about my cuisine “.
Here’s what someone else says about the difference
The Southern style pho is often served in bigger bowls, with lots of garnish – not just mint and cilantro but often rice paddy herb and sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili and basil and hoisin sauce. It has a rich meat broth, but more of a fishy taste than the North – not necessarily because of the fish sauce, but because many Saigon-style pho broths are made with cuttlefish as well as beef. Yes, slightly smaller noodles too, a bigger bowl and a sweeter broth.
In contrast, in Hanoi the pho tai (rare beef) or pho bo (beef) broth has not just the broth but also hints of anise and cloves and cinnamon and less emphasis on the fish. Not so sweet either and a clearer broth. With pho said to originate in the north, pho purists tend to favour the Hanoi style pho over the south. Herbs are pre-added to the soup – green onions, thinly sliced white onion and sometimes chopped cilantro or mint – but not served next to it. Bowls are smaller too.
For a look at the history of both phos and the noodle soup’s evolution, please see Loving Pho’s piece, The History and Evolution of Pho: A Hundred Years’ Journey”
And here’s a reasonably good article about it:
My colleagues in Vietnam told me fervently that they prefer Hanoi Pho to Saigon Pho. They told me if I wanted to try Hanoi Pho, I MUST go to Hanoi to try it .
Go to Hanoi just to have a bowl of Pho? Who am I – Anthony Bourdain?
Upon pressing, they gave me the name (reluctantly) of what they think is a decent restaurant selling north Vietnamese cuisine and acceptable Hanoi Pho in Ho Chi Minh.
So off I go to Mam Bac restaurant (Ben Nghe Ward, Dist 1, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam)
Mam Bac was a smallish restaurant in a street lined with small shops and restaurants.
The ride there was traumatic.
I swear they are all trying to kill me.
The ride was also educational.
That’s good advice.
But sometimes the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.
I finally arrived at Mam Bac hungry and eager to learn.
Interesting extended Menu.
I ordered the Beef Pho, some snails wrapped in some green stuff and in a moment of metrosexual vulnerability and even greater insanity (willingly I might add) some other random vegetables.
The snails didn’t taste like anything and was a tad saltish. Meh.
The random vegetables did havoc to my system. I think I overheard my gut complaining to my spleen – “ WTF dude! Why is the fat bastard trying to kill us with this much roughage. Vegetables ? What’s wrong with him ? Is he not getting any ?”
And the Pho? I can definitely see and taste the difference. The Broth was clearer, sweeter, more delicate and you were definitely being seduced by svelte undertones of star anise, cinnamon, cloves and the unbearable lightness of being. I can definitely understand why the purists swear by Hanoi Pho and think it’s more authentic, elegant, and well put altogether.
Which do I prefer ? Being the meathead man whore bitch, wouldn’t I prefer the heady, unapologetically in your face oxtail driven robust flavours of Saigon Pho?
Masculine over feminine? Yang over Yin surely ?
But yet I prefer Hill of Grace over Grange, Margaux over Lafite, St Julien over St Estephe.
Or does the answer lie in whether I am a tits or legs man ? Wait – what about ass ?
Ribeye or Tenderloin?
French or Italian?
Armani or Ed Hardy ?
Gucci or John Varvatos?
Perhaps the answer is in the pics.
At the end: