In Hanoi, there is no end to the number of ways you can eat Pho. Have you ever tried pho chien going – crispy deep-fried pho dipped into hot sauce? The delicious variation is available at Kham Thien street. Words by me. Edits by Nick Ross. Photos by Francis Roux. The article was originally published on Word Hanoi Issue May 2013.
If Naple is called as the emblematic capital of pasta, Mumbai is regarded as the land of curry, and it seems a “must” to have doner kebab if you travel to Istanbul, then life in Hanoi can’t be without phở. Even phở is known to have its origin in Nam Dinh province, not Hanoi, the city is still said to be where you can find the best phở as well as a diverse range of phở type: phở bò or beef noodle soup, phở gà or chicken noodle soup, hot phở, cooled phở, dried phở, phở xào or sautéed phở, and also, phở chiên or fried phở.
But what about phở chiên giòn or crispy fried phở? Have you ever tasted that? A dish made up of crispy fried rice stick and hot sauce with herbs and vegetable, you can try it at eatery 206 Kham Thien street – one opened and run by a 3-generation Hanoi-born family.
Pho with another twist
When you order phở chiên giòn, you will get a plate of crispy fried pho noodle , which is nicely cut into pieces like pizza crust and a bowl of hot beef or pork sauce with herbs and vegetables. What makes this dish special is not only the blend of the ingredients in the sauce, but also the magic bánh phở, which appears to be dry, but in fact, both crispy and soft as its thin layer of pho noodle inside is still soft regardless of its crispy cover. Adding some vinegar, chilly or some served vegetable pickles on the side, then phở chiên giòn tastes really amazing.
When asked why the thought up of the dish, the shop owner told us that initial inspiration come from a customer request, but that they have experienced and refined the process over the years.
The family tried different ways to make the noodles cripsy. Around 1990s, they finally realized that the only way to do it is to make it twice. “We sauté rice sticks for the 1st time then fry it 2nd time on high heat with an industrial gas cooker”.
“This phở chiên giòn originated from a suggestion of a gourmet has become our main business up to now”.
“The other secret lies at the sauce. Whether you opt for pork or beef, it is essential to add herbs and vegetables to reduce the fat and help gourmets feel the balance in taste. One important thing to take note is you have to put each ingredient in the correct order or it will lose the taste and smell of some ingredients” the son, who also participated in the cooking said. “You also notice the stickiness and the blend of ingredients in the sauce bowl, it is only achieved when we can estimate the right amount of wheat to add in” he continued.
The family have been asked many times for the recipe, but the claim there is none. “When my mum passed away, we three siblings continued the shop with our cooking experience. In essence, we have to adapt our cooking to meet the taste of customers, which is changing and somehow different from the past. Maybe today people like our phở chiên giòn, but in the coming years, when taste of Hanoians changes, we will have to change the way we cook it now” said the mother.
Every single member of the family is a cook and all involved in the business. When asked about future plan, the son said, “I am graduating this May. However, instead of working for a company, I decide to continue our family business. I want to continue our family business and think up of more dishes with phở, which are season-suitable and serving more people from all walk of life”.