Last updated September 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Phở Gia Hân: 387 Chu Văn An Street, Bình Thạnh District, Saigon [MAP]
I was first drawn to Phở Gia Hân by the enticing aroma that wafted over the narrow street on humid evenings, as I drove by on my motorbike on my way to a friend’s house in Saigon. Occupying the corner of a small intersection on Chu Văn An Street in Bình Thạnh District, Phở Gia Hân is very popular in the evenings, when it basks in the orange glow of a sodium street lamp. Inside and outside seating is on metallic stools at metallic tables, their shiny surfaces reflecting the shimmering brightness of the naked strip light bulbs that illuminate this soup house, making it stand out like a beacon in the night.
Open daily from 6.00-11.00am and 4.30-9.30pm, Phở Gia Hân is at its busiest from six o’clock in the evening, when there’s a relentless but good-natured rush to serve everyone as the orders fly in, shouted over the din by seated customers: “Two bowls with beef balls, one with well-done brisket!”, “Three bowls with rare beef and extra broth!”, “Three more bowls over here and I want my bean sprouts blanched!” There’s a satisfying rhythm to service; swift and efficient to the beat of meat being chopped on a wooden board and the splash of noodles blanched in a giant pot. The owners are a husband and wife from Saigon, and the staff are made up of their teenage children. Originally located in Gò Vấp District for over 10 years, they moved to their current address four years ago, naming their soup house after their little daughter, Gia Hân.
The aromatic broth that originally drew me here is rich with the deep dark tones of cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and clove. It’s a clear broth which, aficionados say, is key to a great bowl of phở, although I suspect this has more to do with presentation than flavour. It looks beautiful, fresh and colourful. The taste is a little sweeter than the aroma suggests, but this is to be expected from a southern bowl of phở, famous for being sweeter than northern versions. I add bean sprouts, a squeeze of lime and a generous amount of fresh herbs to my bowl – another southern tradition. This brings added depth to the flavor and masks the sweetness of the broth, replacing it with a peppery bitterness from the sawtooth coriander, and a strong menthol aniseed flavour from the rice paddy herb and sweet basil. The beansprouts add crunch, and the lime ties all the flavours together. The slices of beef brisket in my bowl are tender and the rice noodles are soft and light. This is a well-balanced bowl of textures, colours and flavours in a classic, friendly, busy, family-run Saigon street food environment. At only 25,000VNĐ ($1) a bowl I usually order seconds. (See Related Posts for more of my Saigon food guides)
MAP: Phở Gia Hân: 387 Chu Văn An, Bình Thạnh District, Saigon
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