Oh darn HCMC (Saigon), why so unPHOghettable

T-shirts devoted to pho-puns — Pho Sure, Pho Real, Got Pho?, What the Pho? Just Pho You? — offer a glimpse to how popular the Vietnamese noodle dish is. Rightly described by Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, as “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip,” the noodle broth comes in the raw beef version (pho bo tai) and chicken pho (pho ga).

My first unforgettable, I mean unphoghettable sip of omg-this-is-goddamn-out-of-this-world-amazing pho was at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam in 2011.

In fact, the alluring taste of the translucent, clear broth (comparable to consommé)  that hinted sweet tender beef and aromatic herbs, had me revisit Vietnam a second time.

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is "Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip."

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip.”

Sherry’s love affair with Vietnamese street fare

But I was forever cursed. For afterward, no matter how hard I searched, I seem forever sampling inferior copy of that pho. And did I mention after factoring in the exchange rate, the omg-this-is-goddamn-out-od-this-world-amazing pho costs only 75 cents?

The following texting took place between my sister and I after my visit to the much-raved, San Francisco-based The Slanted Door:


Point taken, “No duh.”

Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant, marketed as the modern Vietnamese cuisine, is both delightful and delicious. Situated on the pier, the beautiful restaurant offers a breathtaking view of the Bay Bridge and the water. Using fresh, local ingredients, these classic dishes boast nothing but explosive fresh flavors.

Take a popular appetizer, the beef carpaccio, which serves thinly sliced raw beef dressed in lime juice, roasted peanut, and chopped coriander on toasted sesame rice cracker, surprised me with its layered flavor and texture. Let’s see, it was subtly tangy, salty, chewy, crunchy… Likewise, the pho was lovely (albeit, smaller portion and far more expensive than the one I had in Vietnam). Both dishes paired wonderfully with a delicate white.

Beautiful setting, checked. Impeccable, friendly service, checked. Delicious food, checked. So why am I left unsatisfied?

Perhaps what I was really looking for in my pho was serendipity —

The thrill of wandering alone in a foreign city not knowing the language. The adventure of riding a motorcycle taxi. The irresistible sweet smell of the broth that drew me into the shop. The way that, after adding lemon juice, handfuls of basils and chili peppers, the transformed broth blossomed like spring on my palate.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3, Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco, CA

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