Phổ Tai Chin Raw Meat Soup – 128 of 365

Phổ Tai Chin

I challenge anyone to wander down a street in Hanoi without running across some sort of shop or mobile phổ lady dispensing this national dish to the eager masses.  Parents even mash the silky rice noodles into a baby food paste.  Who needs Gerbers when a simple bowl of soup seems to sate an entire family’s nutritional needs.  Remember that food pyramid we looked at last month listing phổ as one of the food groups (Meal 64)?  If it’s good enough to be a government sanctioned food group, maybe I better start slurping down some more of these noodles and broth.

The first authentic phổ I ever tried almost two years ago when I arrived in Vietnam was a version quite scary to the uninitiated.  Raw strips of meat floating in the broth called my sanity into question that maiden voyage, and even more so begged the question if my stomach was up to the task.   The hot soup broth should cook the cow chunks and all I remember was frantically swirling those bloody strips around and around with my chopsticks in a last ditch effort to blanch it before the broth cooled down.

Fast forward to now and right near the Sofitel Plaza Hotel and Truc Bach Lake is a nondescript soup joint called Pho Co Gia Truyen at 2 Yen Phu Street.  Discarded napkins, lime wedges and herb stalks that somehow missed the wastebaskets under each table litter the concrete floor as an indication a steady stream of patrons noisily sucking down their breakfasts had thoroughly enjoyed their meals.   As with many Vietnamese street eateries, the place looks an exploded trash can, but who cares.  Living over here causes many an expat’s standards to drop to about nil and we just do what the locals do…Kick all the offending crap away and crouch down onto a foot high stool with a knee popping thud.

Sidewalk Kitchen

The words “tai chin” on a wall menu seemed innocuous enough with their monosyllabic simplicity, and I decided to give them a taste.   Lo and behold that very same version complete with meat sushi so terrifying me two years earlier arrived, and I thought to myself you have got to be freaking kidding me.  Well, at least I now know what this variety is called.  I quickly grabbed some recycled chopsticks out of the plastic utensil holder and stirred that raw meat like there was no tomorrow as the hot water turned raw pink into a “safer” grey.

Tai means rare steak and chin well done brisket, and I got to wondering why this particular phổ contains half raw meat and half cooked.  Both eventually arrive at the same cooked Vietnamese toughness so why not just cook it all in the first place?   Let’s just pick one or the other and call it a day.  A simple explanation will explain away my trepidation eating this meal for I’ve seen the path meat takes from the countryside into Hanoi.   An uncovered split open carcass straddles the back of a motorbike and sometimes the driver’s wife is even perched atop the bloody animal remains.  Of course the meat is properly seasoned by road grime, and by the time it arrives at the market or restaurant it truly is a marinated wonder.

Can you imagine this scene rolling down Interstate 40 in America?   See why tai chin soup gives me great pause?  I can only hope the hot liquid is enough to cook the nasties out of that meat!  Now that I think about it, maybe all that overcooked beef nuked into into shoe leather oblivion all across Vietnam is perhaps a good thing.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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