Pho Ha Noi
1759 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1561
When discussing the origins of Pho, there are not a lot of facts available. While some think that the origin of Pho (pronounced ‘Fuh’) is from the French dish Pot au Feu, there is very little that historians can agree on. Reconstructing an oral history from something from the turn of the 20th Century can’t be easy. But there are a couple facts that are always agreed upon – Pho was originally beef, there was undoubtedly a French influence on the creation of the dish, and that it originated in the North, somewhere around Ha Noi, and was brought South with locals who migrated when the country was split into two in 1954.
Versions of Pho from the North ended up quite different than versions of the South, which was adapted a lot more for the Southern palate. As i discussed in my post on Pho Y #1, which is just across the road from Pho Ha Noi, versions in the North are much milder and more subtle. Far less anise, clove, black cardamom, and lighter treatments of charred onion and ginger, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth. Pho Ha Noi serves a true northern style Pho, quite different than the Southern style Pho served at Pho Y #1.
Located at the intersection of Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, it’s another in the large number of Vietnamese noodle shops in the area.
There isnt anything really all that remarkable about the exterior, but you can see the red sign very clearly against the backdrop of tan through the entire complex.
Inside is plain, and functional, but most importantly clean. It’s always busy here – no matter what time you show up, it’s rarely less than full.
Along with two primary Pho styles, Pho Ga (chicken) and Pho Bo (beef), there are a small number of side dishes, and a large number of Pho components variations.
The Cha Gio, deep fried spring rolls, are large, crispy morsels freshly fried and brought to the table steaming hot. Accompanied with some thin rice noodles and greens, you make rolls, and dip them in the nam pla (fish sauce) and vinegar sauce. This was something I first had in Ha Noi, and was the first time i’d seen it in North America. The freshness of the greens, the body of the noodles, and the vinegary fish sauce are great complements to the oily, fried, crunch rolls. Inside the rolls are a low amount of vegetable matter – cloud ear, sliced carrots, it’s mostly pork. Very tasty.
The Pho condiment plate that comes out before the Pho does is pretty basic. Some realy nice fresh basil, sprouts, and chili peppers.
While purists will say that Pho Ga isn’t the original Northern style Pho (Pho Bac is the true original), it was definitely very prevalent all over the North, and particularly in Ha Noi, where the availability of good quality, inexpensive chicken made it as popular a dish as the more expensive beef version. The version that Pho Ha Noi serves is extremely reminiscent of versions I had in Hanoi – just slightly larger.
The Pho Ga comes with a mix of white and dark meat, loads of scallions, and freshly made rice noodles – made on site. With the option of wide or thin noodles, I opted for the wide noodles. They are fantastic, soft and supple, but with a bit of resistance to the bite. They also arent all in a tangled mess that reconstituted noodles often end up. They bring a very delicate texture to the best feature of the Pho Ga – the broth. Mild, delicate, light, clear, but with the wonderful essence of chicken. It’s not oily, the sweet and salt balance highlights the fantastic chicken flavour – this dish is a complete winner,
The Pho Bo is done in the Northern Style as well – with the same choice of fresh noodles, but with your choice of beef cuts. Standard rare beef here is actually not standard – they don’t use the typical eye of round, but instead use a tenderized sirloin. It makes for a very soft, delicate, yet extremely flavourful rare beef. In my case, the tripe, tendon, and flank were all perfectly cooked as well. Tripe was qiu qiu – a bit rubbery, but with give and chew. Fantastic. Tendon was soft and supple but not dissolving in your mouth. And the tendon had some resistance. The broth was also fantastic – light on spices, a perfumey beef smell and flavour, light touches on salt and sweet, and not too oily. For the northern style, this was an excellent bowl of Pho Bo. Very subtle though.
Northern style Pho may not be for everyone – people who enjoy the bold, vibrant flavours of the south may find it a bit watery and bland. I watched with disappointment as a few tables add copious quantities of hoisin and sriracha to their soups, it completely drowned out the nuance and subtlety of their amazing broths. Combined with excellent meat, and fresh rice noodles, these are true representations of great Northern style Pho. If you think this is more your style, it’s a must try. It’s the closest you’ll get to Northern Vietnamese Pho without going there yourself.