Months ago my friend Phuc introduced me to Pho Cuon Huong Mai (25 Ngu Xa Street in the Hanoi’s Truc Bach Lake neighborhood) for a highly local, very tasty, and very cheap food experience. It’s one of those typical open front, fan cooled joints where people in the know leave quite satisfied and plotting the next meal there. Chả ngan nướng grilled goose and fermented shrimp (#77) phở cuốn rolling noodle (#89) are already some of the items we have already taken a bite of, and now I decided to introduce a coworker to street food Hanoi style.
I was sitting there at the table trying to figure out where I’ve tasted this before. That crunch. That salt. That bitter corn taste. What is it? After three big bites of this lard laden dietetic nightmare, I was no closer to an answer. I popped another one in my mouth under the guide of research, and finally some familiarity washed over my tongue. That’s it! These things taste just like Bugles. Yes, those triangle puff pieces that spawn in a factory and lurk in a foil bag. I’m sure these phở chiên phồng are one hundred percent more natural than a chemical packed Bugle though. But based on the amount of grease, I’d surmise no better on the waistline.
Their name translates loosely as fried noodles bulging, and that is quite the accurate description for these puff pieces. Bear with me here as I describe what exactly these oily gut bombs are. The slender precut rice noodles swimming around an ordinary bowl of pho don’t just suddenly materialize in some immaculate conception at the soup joint. They were originally large sheets prior to going under the knife. The phở chiên phồng variety is sliced into large squares prior their final swim in the oil bath.
A generous portion of what appears to be stir fried cow, tomatoes, onion, and a leafy green are placed atop the fried noodles. Brown sauce shimmers in the bottom of the plate. Eating the phở chiên phồng right away is a crunchy tongue burning experience whereas letting them cool enough to suck up some of the sauce turns them soft and chewy. Either way they are great despite their artery clogging, cholesterol raising, waistline enhancing after effects. Once in a blue moon a guilty splurge like this just makes the food taste even better.