Phở Hùng was the first meal I ever ate in Vietnam. Following a twenty-hour flight, I stumbled, bleary-eyed with jetlag, into the first restaurant I came across, and over two years later, the bar that was set by that fantastic first meal remains as high as ever. Despite extensive experimentation, Phở Hùng remains my favourite example of the national dish.
I eagerly opened the door, and was met with the familiar appetising, faintly sweet aroma of Vietnam’s soul food.The menu offers phở with chicken or a bewildering array of beef combinations, plus other Vietnamese standards. I ordered the classic ‘phở tái chín accompanied by ‘cà phê sữa đá", and waited, salivating, while the waitress brought over a huge bushel of herby vegetables, as well as lime segments, chili and steamed spring onions and beansprouts. Soon, huge steaming bowls of broth, phở noodles and beef were placed in front of us. We tore the vegetables, and added them together with lime and our choice of condiments. This ritual helps build eager anticipation of the first mouthful, as well as allowing the raw tái to cook in the broth.
Eating phở is an overwhelmingly sensual experience. Bending over the bowl, hot steam rises into your face, filling your nose with its sweet smell, while the soup, noodles, vegetables and beef combine soft, chewy and crunchy textures. The cà phê offers a cooling counterpoint. The broth at Phở Hùng is excellent, cooked all day in huge vats, then served in generously proportioned bowls. At 60,000đ, it is not particularly cheap by local standards, but is still excellent value. I slurped down the last of the soup with satisfaction and inspected the front of my shirt for escaped droplets– the one drawback of excellent phở.