Pho originated in the early 20th century in the northern province of Nam Dinh, and has since become a signature Hanoian dish. Over the past century it has developed a diverse range of variations. Not only are there pho noodles with broth — pho bo (beef pho) or pho ga (chicken pho) — but other offerings such as pho cuon, pho chien, pho xao and pho chay. Among these diverse choices, pho ga tron or mixed pho with chicken is a modern variation on a traditional favourite. If pho ga is eaten at breakfast to start off a new day, then pho ga tron is its younger sibling, best eaten for dinner.
With a changed way of combining ingredients, the cool mixed noodles are more suitable for the hot summers than its version with hot broth. Rich in taste, light but appetizing, pho ga tron is the perfect choice for the sweaty Hanoi weather of June, July and August.
The main ingredients of this modern variation of pho ga are simply noodles and chicken meat. The chicken is boiled to retain the sweetness of the meat, then cut into slight pieces. The noodles are quickly scalded in hot water, then dressed with a layer of chicken fat so that they are both soft and crunchy, as well as rich in taste. Vegetables and herbs are added to create balance. But like many other mixed dishes — think mi quang — the key to a tasty pho ga tron lies in the sauce, which is the catalyst to bringing all the ingredients together in harmony.
Among traditional pho eateries in Hanoi, Pho Hanh (65 Lan Ong, Hoan Kiem) is a firm favourite in the summer. Walking along the Chinese medicine street, thanks to the crowds sat outside on the requisite tiny plastic chairs, the eatery is unmissable. Its signature dish, pho ga tron Lan Ong is famous for its appetizing sauce and quality chicken meat.
“We have been selling pho here for many years,” says the owner. “When we opened we were a small vendor, and our family used to sell traditional pho ga like many other shops. Then we started noticing that the preferences of our customers changed with the season, so we decided to make pho ga tron for the summer. But the soul of the traditional pho ga is still there.”
For customers, the taste of the chicken meat is one of the eatery’s selling points. Instead of using fatty or industrial chicken, ga ta or chicken raised in the countryside is used. The taste of this type of chicken is richer, but not because of its fat — it never feels greasy. The skin is crunchier while the meat is firm. “The chicken wings and legs are perfect for pho ga tron. Either is good. But you have to use ga ta.”
The other standout is the sauce — a perfect blend of sweet, sour, bitter and fat. The sauce is made from chicken broth.
“The sauce cannot define the character of the dish if it is does not go with the vegetables of Vietnam,” explains the owner. “Fried onions, papaya salad and traditional herbs like peppermint and sweet basil add to both the look and taste of the meat, creating an appetizing mixture.”
Pho ga tron is served up with a small bowl of broth for diners — many preferring something with liquid to finish off the dish. Like traditional pho ga, it is also paired with quay or crispy fried breadstick. It’s an alluring combination.
Located at 65 Lan Ong, Pho Hanh opens at around 6.30pm every day and serves customers until late. Pho ga tron costs VND40,000 a bowl