A friend and former colleague had suggested I try it. Set right outside the Ben Thanh Market on Tran Hung Dao, it’s not a place I would’ve seen and felt invited to check out without any recommendation. From the outside, it looks unappealing; once inside, the atmosphere is pretty dull with its fluorescent lighting. The setting is very basic without frills, unless yellow stickers on the windows are considered decoration by new international catering standards.
I sit down and minutes later, order a Beef Pho (pronounced “Feu” like in French). Following the advice of JoeDuck, I ask for the meat to be well-cooked and the soup to be light. She nods her head while writing the order down, giving me the impression she hears this same request quite a few times during the day.
I don’t think much of the signage reading ‘Pho for the President’ below the official name ‘Pho 2000’ while coming in. Not until I finish placing my order and start gazing around the place. The President they’re referring to is none but the former U.S. President Bill Clinton. His pictures are all over the walls. It seems he dropped by to have two bowls of Pho during his state visit to Vietnam in November 2000 -the first for a post-war American head of state since the war days.
The soup arrives quickly, in a big-sized bowl, the biggest I’ve ever seen! Presented in a very simplistic way, the stock base is thin -just like I wanted it, containing flat rice noodles, slim cuts of beef and herbs. On the side, a supply of lime, basil leaves, red chili and bean sprouts, all of which can be added according to one’s own taste. I put in a bit of all four and few sips and chopstick bites later, I was hooked. Now I am not a fan of soups in general and this *was* my first introduction to phos but I loved it! And was already planning my comeback.
Looking around, the place is full of them all: the tourists, the expats and the locals, the latter giving me a sign of relief. After all, locals would know better, wouldn’t they? And if they think it’s good, then it’s good enough. Tables are turning over like crazy, an average of 2 to 3 seatings during the time I am there. It’s not exactly the kind of place one hangs out in for a long time, reading, watching people, etc. but more a spot one goes to for the good food and good taste.
I feel full but I stay to finish my pho. Yes it is THIS good! I still can’t fathom how Bubba managed to gulp down *two* bowls in one stop! Reading about Pho later in the evening, I got to know that even though it can be eaten at any time during the day, Vietnamese usually fill up on it at breakfast before getting on with their daily routines. Interestingly enough, this dish has its origin in poverty.
Walking back (yes I HAD to WALK), I had this smile and look which say ‘I know what *you’re* having’ each time I ran into a Vietnamese on the street with a bowl of soup in his/her hands for *I* just had my Pho initiation! And it was awesome!