A Viet­namese resto in Mag­in­hawa is the owner’s love let­ter to Saigon

Get to know Saigon through this Viet­namese joint in Mag­in­hawa

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT OLIVER EMOCLING PHOTOGRAPHY NICOLLO SAN­TOS

Since restau­rants first ap­peared within the then quiet neigh­bor­hood of Mag­in­hawa years ago, the now bustling food street has sus­tained its pop­u­lar­ity. But for Viet­namese na­tional The Vinh Hoang, it is still not com­pa­ra­ble to the food-lined streets of Saigon. He re­calls how Saigon lo­cals would stop by a shop to grab a banh mi and eat it on their bi­cy­cles, or how they would en­joy bot­tles of beer ev­ery night after work. Ev­ery restau­rant there is fo­cused on spe­cific food, he ex­plains.

That ex­pe­ri­ence is what he is try­ing to bring to Mag­in­hawa through Saigon Pho, a non­de­script restau­rant of­fer­ing authentic Viet­namese cui­sine that Hoang grew up with.

As its name sug­gests, Saigon Pho still high­lights the pop­u­lar Viet­namese noo­dle dish, cooked Saigon-style. When their pho bo ar­rives on your ta­ble, it’s pre­sented with­out any fuss: an as­sem­blage of herbs, some slices of beef, and bean sprouts sit­ting atop flat rice noo­dles. It looks al­most too sim­ple, but a spoon­ful of the hot, clear soup in­stantly re­veals a rich sa­vory fla­vor—the re­sult of the beef be­ing boiled for 10 hours. The soup also main­tains fresh notes from var­i­ous herbs. The dish is al­ready fla­vor­ful, but you can still build on its taste with gen­er­ous ad­di­tions of hoisin, chili sauce, or lime.

With pho al­ready gain­ing trac­tion among the lo­cal din­ing crowd within the past cou­ple of years, this hole-in-the-wall also in­cluded in its menu a less pop­u­lar noo­dle dish called bún bò.

The pri­mary dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is the noo­dle’s shape: While pho uses flat rice noo­dles, bún bò fea­tures cylin­dri­cal ones swim­ming in red­dish broth. When probed whether the noo­dle’s shape has a culi­nary im­pli­ca­tion, Hoang ex­plains that it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of cul­tural pref­er­ence. The bún bò has the same base soup and herbs as pho, but it’s slightly spicy. If you want to make it even more pun­gent, add an ap­pro­pri­ate amount of their sa­tay.

Saigon Pho’s menu is rel­a­tively short. Ac­cord­ing to Hoang, he in­tended to keep the menu that way so it could re­ally cen­ter on the food he had eaten back in his home­town. Aside from the noo­dle dishes, they also of­fer other Viet­namese fares like banh mi and goi cuôn or Viet­namese spring rolls. Their spring rolls come with two choices of dips: their orig­i­nal sauce—tangy and spicy with a fish sauce fla­vor that is bolder and a bit sweeter than what Filipinos are used to—and the much sweeter peanut sauce that was cre­ated to cater to the Filipino palate. Hoang’s part­ner Joanna Gabi­ran ex­plains how some din­ers as­so­ciate their goi cuôn with lumpiang sariwa, which has a sim­i­lar nutty sauce.

A meal here can be capped off the Viet­namese way with ca phe sua da or Viet­namese cof­fee, though to cleanse your palate, you can opt for their green tea. Their green tea is in­fused with jas­mine flow­ers, mak­ing it more aro­matic and re­lax­ing.

Saigon Pho stays true to the re­fresh­ing taste of Viet­namese cui­sine. Aside from its au­then­tic­ity, it’s also Hoang’s love let­ter to his home­town. Open­ing it on the busy street of Mag­in­hawa was like bring­ing home with him wher­ever he went.

Both Saigon Pho’s bún bò and pho bo use broth cooked for 10 hours. The bún bò has spher­i­cal rice noo­dles, while pho has flat ones.

Viet­namese cof­fee; Com tam with pork and egg

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