What I am about to write is food blasphemy to the highest degree. My dear Vietnamese friends especially, you are most likely already comfortable seated in a chair but please brace yourselves nonetheless. Well, here goes…I am just not a huge fan of regular phở. A collective gasp is washing all across Vietnam now, and yes, you read that right.
Look, I realize this basic noodle soup is practically the national dish and all, and sunburned tourists wear their cheesy “I Heart Phở” t-shirts with a steaming bowl of pho in the outline of a heart taking the place of the word love. It’s just that I can’t seem to embrace this plain food when so many other delectable and infinitely more complex soup choices such as bún riêu cua abound.
The definition of insanity is trying something over and over again hoping for a different outcome. Well, call me insane then for trying yet another bowl of phở when I knew deep down nothing would change my perceptions. So why did I even order some? Good question actually. A pictorial sign at a Huyen Chi Restaurant at 39 Nguyen Van Lac Street in Binh Thanh District strangely advertises “Bún Mọc Hà Nội” as a phở. Now I know this bún mọc truly is not part of the genus and species commonly known as a phở noodle soup orginating in the capital city, but we’ll just run with it since this is how it is presented a thousand miles south here in Saigon.
The English translation is really what caught my eye. Who in their right minds would pass up the chance to eat “forced meat noodle?” So with all my might I forced myself to order a bowl and the one thing I was unable to force was my disappointment when this concoction arrived. A clear yellow broth smacking mostly of msg and oil was a very unauthentic canvas for pieces of processed meat tasting suspiciously close to Oscar Mayer bologna. Even the noodles had the tell tale texture indicating they were once dried and reconstituted much like packaged ramen rather than freshly made. Actually, there we go…the forced beef soup tastes like chicken ramen noodles perked up with diced hot dog.
Even the watery base was like cracking open a canned broth gleaned from a supermarket shelf rather than a proper brew boiled in a cauldron the time honored way with bones and spices. The most novice of cooks such as me could recreate this one at home from prefab junk culled from the pantry no problems indeed. If the name bún mọc sort of rings a bell, you are correct. Meal #165 only days before out on the sidewalk in Hanoi was a bowl of this soup in its proper home cooked form laced with all sorts of authentic street cred. I am glad to have tried the real deal to know this is a great soup where the “forced meat” is proper soft meatballs requiring no force at all to eat.