Phu Quoc Phổ Breakfast – 103 of 365

Beef Phổ

You just know a great trip is in store when the only English the hotel bellhop seems to know is, “How many girl you want for breakfast?  One?  Two?  Three?”  Someone obviously has taught him this phrase for a reason, and he wouldn’t even know how to count to three unless some past situation had risen to the occasion of procuring a harem.  And for the record, I politely declined his most generous (and repeated) offers for a morning delight.

Yes, here we are in colorful Phu Quoc, an island about 35 minutes south of Saigon by air.   Though sampling the local offerings of one sort isn’t on my menu, the quest for good food definitely is.  And by the way, Phu Quoc is known for its fish sauce and Vietnamese from all corners of the country show overly excited enthusiasm when  the local fermented fish water is mentioned.  I guess it’s like catnip to them, and I will admit I am somewhat a convert, too.  And you know how they say never visit a hot dog factory?  Well, I made the mistake of visiting a fish sauce factory…Same concept.  Let’s just leave it at that…

My guidebook pages offering detailed advice on the best pizza, greatest sandwich, and biggest bowl of pasta got me to thinking this is not what I am hungry for.   This island is the Vietnam we all dream about from afar, and pizza is the best some book can come up with?  This food nonsense pointed me in the right direction though…I went on a mission to find breakfast at a local joint far removed from the Western masses.

Away from the tourists

Randomly driving around on a motorbike scored the first stop on the Great All-Phu Quoc Vietnamese Food Extravaganza.  Pho Sai Gon at 31 Duong 34/4 in Duong Dong Town seemed good enough for no other reason than the amount of motorbikes parked out front and being a seemingly tourist free zone.  A bubbling cauldron of soup by the entrance sent a fragrant beef aroma all over the sidewalk and within minutes a steaming bowl of phở tô lớn arrived tableside along with the standard lime wedges, herbs and chili peppers.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest phở fan on the face of the earth, but I am not going to push a bowl of it away.  I prefer “drier” dishes with a non liquid base, especially in this sort of wet heat.  Let’s just call the bowl of soup here “research” to determine how other parts of Vietnam prepare this quintessential dish, and Pho Sai Gon serves a praiseworthy phở full of deep beef flavor.  All those bones boiling in the pot impart some layered richness into the broth, and there’s something to be said for time honored traditions in cooking rather than the easy way out shortcuts.

And yes, I know, I know, we’ve sample beef phở together before but never this intriguing variety of the “tô lớn” sort.  Since I am on a mission to uncover the most local of Phu Quoc experiences, sampling this most Vietnamese of soups seemed proper inspiration.  I got to wondering what sound tô lớn meat made in the barnyard once upon a time.  An oink?  Perhaps a bray?  In my mind I built up images that this must somehow be goat or maybe something even more exotic.  So excited to have sampled tô lớn, I asked a coworker what these two words mean, and she said “large.”  Yes, large.  I simply ate a large bowl of cow beef soup.  My visions of some bizarre animal meat came crashing down around me when I discovered tô lớn is not even close to hatching in a barnyard.  Well, cows are sort of tô lớn, aren’t they?

Don’t worry though, an entire island of new foods awaits.   We’ll find the real Phu Quoc soon enough, tô lớn or not.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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