No Name Phở Kitchen at Thụy Khuê Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Isn’t it true that many times we eat easy – unfortunately often unhealthy – food (or shall I say grub) which is prepared quickly and is also inexpensive, or, let’s be honest: it’s cheap. We either don’t have time or we just don’t take the time for a real lunch. And of course most of us can’t pay tens of euros or dollars for a midday meal every day – which shows that the quality of what and how we eat is also a social question.
I admire people who cook at home and bring their own lunch to work, since this is probably the most inexpensive and reliable solution – you know exactly what kind of ingredients were used, where you bought your meat, and so on. But perhaps many of us don’t even have time to prepare any meals at all. And let’s be honest: it’s also convenient just to make a last minute decision about what you feel like eating for lunch.
I’ll admit here to liking “Currywurst” – curry sausage – as much as I like Bavarian sausage salad with bread. But this definitely not something for every day. Many prefer to eat salads for lunch because it is generally more healthy and certainly less filling. In any case, let’s please imagine for a moment how it would be to live Europe or North America without the incredible cuisine of immigrants? Think of all the possibilities we are so lucky to have, at least in the larger cities – with respect to Asian, Oriental but also Latin American cuisine. I think in particular of dishes from Southeast Asia and selected oriental countries – also because there aren’t such big differences between appetizers and main menu – offer pleasing alternatives for smaller and lighter fast food which is exciting, tasty and in many cases healthier, too.
This said, some of you may remember how limited the offering of Vietnamese food was just 15 years ago. This has changed tremendously. In some cities like Berlin you can’t even count Vietnamese restaurants and snack shops because there are so many; across all larger towns in Europe (including Eastern Europe) there are nice, mostly family-run Vietnamese places where you get affordable or inexpensive good (fast) food. The highlight of these places is Phở! Phở – as almost everyone knows – is a Vietnamese soup with rice noodles and – originally – beef (and not chicken!), sometimes some additional ingredients, topped with green herbs. What would you say is the most important element of Phở? It’s the broth! The origin of Phở is Northern Vietnam. One of the best Phở I ever have eaten was in Sa Pa, far in the northern mountains of Vietnam. It was for breakfast – since Phở originally is a morning dish. All really good Phở kitchens are open only until early lunch time.
The simpler it is the better it tastes! The broth is each chef’s guarded secret! Bones, gristle, unappetizing pieces of meat, pure fat plus some condiments and herbs, infused in hot water for hours, if not days. In the best case, the broth never gets completely cold as all conserves on one side and exploits on the other side well.
The picture I’ve added to this report was taken at a “no name” Phở kitchen in Hanoi at the beginning of Thụy Khuê Street (https://firstname.lastname@example.org,105.8309226,17z). The place has no name, which is why I call it “No Name”. It has probably been there a very long time already, and considering the quality of pots and kettles I have the feeling it will stay quite a while longer!
The female boss’s, the mother of this diner’s broth is very rich, aromatic and condimental – a wonderful contrast to the almost natural taste of very fresh white rice noodles. And then quite tender beef which is not filet or any choice piece of the animal. Really delicious, just enough to satisfy but not fill you up. And so damned cheap!
It is very funny that most of my friends who love Vietnamese food wouldn’t appreciate the simplicity of the place. They would worry about the dirtiness or poor hygiene – and if not these objections – then certainly because of the visual experience of “ugly” pieces of real meat with streaks, sinews, fat etc. – just as meat actually is.
I will surely be disappointed again when I get my next “Berlin style” Phở – made out of hot dishwater – not older than a few hours, lacking any real taste and character, but with a lot of lemon grass – which you would never find in a real Hanoi Phở.