By Gia Linh
Through generations, phở (beef noodles) has made its way to be the world’s most popular Vietnamese dish. It is not hard to find a place selling phở here in Việt Nam. Be it a food stall or a fancy restaurant, its omnipresence has made phở a comfort food for almost every Vietnamese. The taste of phở and how it is done may vary among regions, but its soul remains the heart of our national identity.
In other parts of the world, people have seen phở as an integral part of Vietnamese cuisine. If you come to Asian restaurants elsewhere in the world, I bet that you will definitely see it as an obvious option on their menus.
With its long-standing fame in the history of cuisine, I find it no surprise that a handful of phở shops appear on the map of the Michelin Guide, the world’s most prestigious purveyor of dining, and I knew that I could not resist joining the bandwagon to give these places a try.
With that, I paid my first visit to Phở Chào, a family-run eatery selling authentic and fusion phở dishes and other varieties from northern cuisine.
Phở Chào is a Michelin-recognised eatery worth trying for those who are looking for a twist on traditional Vietnamese phở dishes. VNS photo Gia Linh
As a southerner tasting northern dishes, I thought it would be great to be accompanied by my friend from the North to give more fair and precise comments.
With its being awarded the Bib Gourmand (given to those with great food and reasonable prices), Phở Chào is always packed with locals and expats wanting to enjoy the authentic Vietnamese dishes despite being located on a small street in the busy Bình Thạnh District.
Phở Chào is nowhere near a gourmet restaurant selling rice noodles with wagyu beef, but rather a warm, family-like eatery with a twist on modern and traditional decoration.
Wooden stools and low tables are seen outside of the relatively small shop, giving the place a familiar street-food vibe. The inside has more of a modern touch with fluorescent lights, and adorned on the walls are various posters featuring stories of the place.
Going different from the usual appearance of phở as a bowl of hot, savoury beef bone broth and silky rice noodles, Phở Chào has adopted creativity and fusionism into their dishes to catch up with modern times. To fuel our curiosity for its famous fusion phở dish, phởtine, we asked for it right away before rummaging through the rest of the menu.
The menu listed a wide selection, ranging from their signature dishes to traditional phở and refreshing drinks. We were surprised to find the prices inviting, if not cheap for a Michelin recommendation, starting only at VNĐ50,000 (US$2) to VNĐ150,000 ($6.5).
Every dish was made upon order, but we only had to wait for around 10 minutes to be served our most anticipated dish, phởtine. The name somewhat speaks for itself, being a pun of phở and poutine (a Canadian dish with fries, cheese, meat, and gravy). It is around VNĐ90,000 ($3.8) for a small plate of phởtine and VNĐ140,000 ($6) for a larger one.
Phởtine, one of the best-sellers, is a perfect modern combination of phở and Canadian poutine. VNS photo Gia Linh
The contrast between the crunchy fries as a base and the steamy phở-flavoured sauce created an irresistible combo. What impressed me was that they used fresh potatoes for the fries, and there was no oil residue collected at the bottom of the plate. Poured on top was the phở broth made into a thick sauce, with julienned carrots and onions and loads of non-frozen beef slices. A thin layer of cheddar cheese in between added more of a western twist to the dish. No wonder this is among their top-selling dishes.
Our second dish was stir-fried phở. We opted for the chicken version for a lighter taste after the relatively heavy phởtine. The sauce was the same phở broth combined with chicken meat and vegetables. The smooth, thick consistency of the sauce balanced out so well the crunchiness of the fried flat rice noodle, and a little hint of spiciness from its homemade chilli ketchup added a perfect note to the plate. With a reasonable price of only VNĐ70,000 ($3), this delicacy is among my favourite versions of phở I have ever tried.
Pan-fried phở is perfect for a little crunch on the table. VNS Photo Gia Linh
When it comes to northern Vietnamese cuisine, it would be a miss not to mention northern-style stir-fried rice vermicelli with eel. Here at Phở Chào, the eel was well-prepared using turmeric, lime, and other seasonings to remove the fishy smell. Besides the umami of vegetables and oyster sauce, the hint of aromatic herbs, including perilla and laksa leaves, added another level of complexity to the dish. With layers of texture and flavours, this dish is truly a regional representative of the place.
Stir-fried rice vermicelli with eel is a dish worth trying when it comes to northern Vietnamese cuisine. VNS Photo Gia Linh
We ended the meal with a bowl of refreshing chè dừa dầm (sweet coconut milk soup), a dessert that originates from the northern province Hải Phòng. Similar to other Asians when commenting on desserts, this one is not too sweet. We love the mild, natural taste of coconut, coming from fresh coconut flesh, coconut jelly, tapioca pearls, and dried coconut flakes. Adding some ice to the sweet soup, we found this a perfect option to cool down during these hot summer days.
I must say Phở Chào is not a place that offers you gastronomic dishes, but it has succeeded in bringing phở to a more modern spectrum of flavours while retaining its familiar features. I agree that its excellent efforts are worthy of recognition by Michelin.
With unexpectedly affordable prices compared to its quality, Phở Chào is definitely a place worth trying for those who are on the search for a new kick in Vietnamese dishes. And with its quality service and consistency, Phở Chào will continue to do Việt Nam proud on the world’s culinary map. VNS
Address: 52 Nguyễn Công Trứ Street, Ward 10, Bình Thạnh District, HCM City
Opening hours: 6:30am to 9pm
Hotline: 0983 821 638 or 0977 008 539
Comment: A Michelin-recommended phở eatery with creative twists in northern Vietnamese cuisine.