Posts Tagged ‘pho bo






Chewing, one eats.

Reflecting, one speaks. Vietnamese proverb

I’m starting the food entries with this amazing country first because of a relatively weird reason: my dad brought home steaming hot sup kambing (Indian mutton soup) from that famous hawker place beside Kallang MRT station the other day for dinner and I was suddenly reminded of that essential Vietnamese dish, Pho Bo or Beef Rice Noodle Soup. Of course, sup kambing and Pho Bo are two totally different foods with different influences, but the basic idea is the same- scrumptious, delicious meats in wholesome rich herbs-infused soup.


Pho Bo (Pronounced as fur-bo. Pronunciation is key people!) is mostly synonymous with the Hanoi province in North Vietnam, influenced by a good dose of Chinese, Mongolian & French cooking, finely tuned to define the unique taste of arguably Vietnam’s favourite dish.


History Lesson #1:  Northern Vietnam is closer to China & was Chinese-ruled between 111 BC to AD 939. With the Chinese, came the all-essential rice, noodles & chopsticks. Mongolian herdsmen came later bringing beef.

History Lesson #2: the French colonials ruled Vietnam for almost 100 years since 1858 until WWII. Thus explains the French methods of long slow simmering of bones & meats in most Vietnamese soups & the wide availability of French baguettes in the country.

Back to Pho Bo. Pre-cooked rice noodles is blanched in hot water, strewn in a bowl, before being draped with red raw strips of beef, white onion slices & ginger. Then steaming piping hot, savoury beef broth is ladled generously over the bowl, cooking the lean meat to tenderness. Crispy bean sprouts, fish sauce to taste and fragrant herbs like coriander and basil are sprinkled over the tasty concoction. People eat it just any time of day in the North and, it’s a popular breakfast choice in the South. It’s very filling, cheap (street vendors are everywhere) and practical, providing plenty of fluid to keep cool in the heat. Talk about comfort fastfood in Vietnam. Beat that MacDonald’s. Delicious awesome stuff.


There’s also the Vietnamese Spring Rolls (see above pic). While it looks like the typical Chinese spring rolls, the filling is wrapped in ‘rice paper’, banh trang– thin sheets made of rice flour paste and sun-dried on bamboo mats- instead of the normal egg-based wheat-flour sheets. Also, the filling is really unique, made of cellophane noodles, minced pork, crabmeat, garlic and mushrooms. The dip, nuoc cham (the chili sauce of vietnamese cooking), is fish sauce refreshingly flavoured with garlic, lime juice, sugar and chillies.


I thought this dish (see above pic) was really interesting because it speaks a lot about the French influences in the country. Banh Khoai or loosely translated as Happy Crepes (yes, I laughed when I saw the adorable translation) is found mostly in Central Vietnam. The batter is made from combining rice flour, cornstarch and wheat flour which is then pan fried on top of minced pork, herbs and prawn. The batter layer is added with bean sprouts, onions, mushroom and egg. The end product is a meaty crispy crepe.


Indian influences are more prevalent in the South, bringing in to the inland more variety of spices and tropical fruits and vegetables. Bánh xéo (see below pic) is like an Indian dhosai made of rice flour and coconut milk, filled with meat (pork, chicken), prawn and vegetables. You tear a bit of the pastry and wrap it in lettuce leaves before you eat it. Aromatic curries such as thit kho nuóc dùa (pork simmered in coconut) is another Indian-inspired dish.


Moving on to some bizarre foods. I know it’s very ethnocentric of me but I cannot help but raise my eyebrows a little when heard about hôt vit lôn (see below pic), a fertilised duck egg (see pic below) when before it fully matures, is placed in boiling water to cook so when it’s cracked open, there’s a tidy delicate mess of blood and feathers. I suppose you need an acquired taste to appreciate the delicacy but it says a lot about how people can perceive certain things as normal depending on the culture and society they’re exposed/belong to.


Southeast Asian foods are not without religious influences. Vietnam is no exception.There are many festivities and celebrations or tets in Vietnam and with it many tet foods. I personally liked the symbolism and significance behind these tet foods. For instance, during Tiêt Hàn Thuc, or Cold Food Holiday which is celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd Vietnamese lunar month, people only eat cold foods and raw vegetables for 3 days (length of a Vietnamese wake) in honour of Gioi Tu Thoi. The legend goes that Gioi Tu Thoi was a loyal servant of a King who served for 19 years, even sacrificing a piece of his thigh muscle to grill it for the King when he was a still a Prince and starving. However, the King had forgotten this sacrifice and shunned Gioi Tu Thoi, driving him into the forest. When he finally realised his mistake, the King tried to flush Gioi Tu Thoi out of the forest by burning the trees. Tragically, he accidentally burnt his loyal servant to death.



One of the special dishes served on that day is the bánh chay (see above pic)the sun, moon and earth (3 round egg-shaped glutinous rice flour), the earth’s water (surrounding soup, sometimes poured with coconut milk) and the stars (sesame seeds) in a small rice bowl. They are said to represent the yin and yang of life and death.



In food, as in death, we feel the essential oneness of humanity . Vietnamese proverb

ReferencesRichard Sterling, World Food Vietnam, 1st Edition, Lonely Planet Publications Pte Ltd: Victoria, Australia, 2000Alice Yen Ho, At the South-East Asian Table,  Oxford university Press: Kuala  Lumpur, 1995Gwenda L. Hyman, Cuisines of Southeast Asia: a culinary journey through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Thomas Woll: Toronto, 1993Photos thanks to, diveinblue & andrewlam & guang-nom & bootsintheoven from flicker.


November 2018
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