Today on a very early morning walk through Saigon off the beaten path, a right turn down leafy Mac Dinh Chi Street rather than my customary left ended up unexpectedly expanding my food universe by one bowl of bò kho. You may remember that great bowl of this beef stew (#163) not so long ago in the Binh Thanh District. Now before the food police go accusing me of a carbon copy repeat in the same city no less, this version is something different. OK, so maybe as the Vietnamese say it’s “same, same but different.”
Bò kho is a rich broth of pot roast like beef, carrots and onions simmering in a red annatto seed hued liquid that has greedily sucked up the flavors of star anise, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, pepper, and five spice powder. Basically that is just a fancy way of saying this tastes good. One bowl after another of this stuff was flying out of the sidewalk cauldron at an unnamed outdoor street food joint at next to Alley 86-88 on Mac Dinh Chi Street.
A super old woman whose eyes have witnessed more Vietnamese history than a textbook has chapters hovered in the doorway as her family served breakfast. Her presence was a good sign some proper traditions most likely are observed in the cooking process. So far my unofficial theory that if an old lady is present, the food will be great has proven correct all across Vietnam. This meal was no exception.
Not that I am any kind of expert on all things bò kho, but here is where this one dollar version veers off the more usual path. Rather than the customary baguette, a healthy carbolicious serving of very thin rice vermicelli floated around in the sweet-tangy liquid. This filling, breadless version is one that I now prefer, though I am sure waistlines all across Vietnam groan in protest. I later learned this one is hủ tiếu bò kho…same same but just enough different.