The major cities feature restaurants offering Vietnamese and international cuisines, but for most Vietnamese, food consumed outside of the home is taken at street-side stalls or small shops that specialize in one dish. The most popular item is a noodle soup with a clear meat-based broth called “pho”. Many Vietnamese regard this as a national dish.
The most renowned of these is Vietnam’s national dish: pho bo, eaten at any time of day but especially for breakfast. Taking root in an earthy, long-simmered beef broth—shot through with clove, ginger, and star anise—the soup is filled out with rice noodles and one or more varieties of raw or cooked beef, tendon, or tripe. Southerners sprinkle fresh herbs and bean sprouts on top, but a Northern pho is generally unadorned, with only a few scallions and a bit of cilantro cooked into the broth and perhaps a squirt of rice vinegar.
Pho Gia Truyen, on Bat Dan Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, doesn’t look like much from the outside—or from the inside, for that matter. The room has a clock, two fans, three bare light bulbs, and a handful of communal tables. The only decoration is the food itself: hulking slabs of brisket suspended from hooks, a hillside of scallions on the counter, and a giant cauldron puffing out fragrant clouds of steam like some benevolent dragon. A cashier takes your money (about a dollar a serving), her colleague fills a bowl with noodles and chopped scallions, and a teenager with a faux-hawk ladles strips of ruby-red beef into the broth to cook for two seconds, then spoons it all into the waiting bowl. Half of Hanoi queues up for a seat, while others slurp their soup perched on motorbikes outside. All wear serious expressions and eat in a silence that feels not joyless but reverential. The stock is so wholesome and protein-rich you feel yourself being cured of whatever might ail you, perhaps of anything that ever could.
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