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.
When I walk into an ethnic restaurant for the first time, I make an attempt to determine if they have a specialty – a particular house dish for which they are “famous” within their community. I look for clues in the menu or on chalkboards and also I look around at the other tables to see what the other patrons are having.
The first time I entered My Chau a couple of years ago, determining their specialty was easy – it was their chicken pho (pho ga) with a side of deep fried chicken leg. The place was packed for lunch and almost every single table had a plate full of this beautifully deep fried chicken leg that comes with bowl of a chicken pho. I knew then I had to have it.
This place is truly a hole-in-the-wall in the best meaning of the term. The restaurant is a mere sliver – perhaps ten feet across and seats no more than perhaps 20-30 people. For such a tiny place, they have an extensive eight page menu.
East Vancouver has a number of places that serve a good beef pho (pho bo). My Chau differentiates itself from the crowd by specializing in pho ga and thus have developed a quite a following. It fills up quickly around lunch time – often with well-dressed and affluent Vietnamese side by side with working class folk looking to have a good pho ga.
Their chicken broth is light, but flavourful – and very nearly transparent in its clarity. It is also quite light in salt. I do not detect that “round” MSG flavour that so many bowls of pho in this town exhibit. The accompanying chicken leg is fried perfectly – with a crisp, golden skin and tender meat. I suspect that the legs had been used to make the broth prior to being deep fried. It may explain the excellent crispiness of the skin. It is delicious and perfectly seasoned.
The noodles are perfectly cooked – loosely separate, al dente, fresh tasting and nicely “ricey”.
The other food I have had here has been very good (The hu tieu – dry noodles – in particular). However, it is their pho ga that beckons.