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“Know One, Teach One.”

imageBack in Ha Noi my brother had found another restaurant he wanted to try out, ‘KOTO’ (Know One, Teach One), a non-profit restaurant that offers vocational training and employment primarily to former street kids in Vietnam and was founded by Jimmy Pham.

Even though trying another pho was tempting but after all the disappointments over the last couple of days the ‘Duck in Five Spices‘ sounded much more appetising. The duck breast was fabulous, juicy, perfectly medium broiled and blow-torch-charred. The panfried crisp potato patty was well seasoned and a great side working together nicely with the meat, sweet and fruity chutney, glazed relish and the savoury rich gravy.

This is a great place with simple interior, super nice staff and all above delicious food. All this combined with a good cause and you have a place I would surely go back to again to also try the Vietnamese signatures from their menu.

KOTO Restaurant Hanoi
59 Van Mieu Street
Dong Da District
Ha Noi
Vietnam
Tel: +84 4 3747 0337
http://www.koto.com.au/

Never give up on your pho.

imageWe arrived at Cat Ba Island early morning after a long trip involving three buses and one boat and before heading out looking for some appropriate accommodation we wanted get something nice and filling into our bellies. Since we had just booked a couple of days climbing at Asia Outdoors at the Noble House we just stayed for breakfast at the ‘Good Bar’ downstairs.

Not giving up hope to be able to find a great one, I ordered another ‘Pho Bo‘, which again was rather tasteless. The soup had bland flavours with only a slight hint of cinnamon; noodles were plenty though and the meat was super lean, juicy and with great texture. Overall it wasn’t too bad and for breakfast the light flavours were actually quite fitting.

imageFor seconds I had the ‘Banana Chocolate Pancake‘ which was outstandingly awesome. The pancake itself was thin and buttery, topped with the perfect combination of banana and chocolate, which was of the darker kind, so it all wasn’t too sweet either. So good it made me order this nearly everyday during our stay in Cat Ba and will as well if I should ever come back here.

The Good Bar
Đường 1 Tháng 4
Cát Bà
Cát Hải, Hải Phòng,
Vietnam
Tel: +84 31 388 8363
http://thenoblehousecatba.wordpress.com/

Simplicity is key.

imageMy brother had done his research and suggested to go to ‘Bún Chả Đắc Kim’ in the Old Quarter for lunch. Like most street style food stalls it didn’t look very appealing at first but whilst we were debating if we should give it a try or venture for something else we recognised that this place had quite a turnover in customers and so we sat down on their miniature plastic stools and tables.

Wondering what should happen next and before really ordering anything the lady of the house just started dishing up. There were delicious little and perfectly spiced grilled pork paddies and fatty thin grilled pork slices in one bowl, some crunchy root vegetables in a light sweetish sauce in another. Into the latter we added a mix of red chili and freshly chopped garlic to jazz things up a bit and gulped it all down accompanied by mountains of cold rice vermicelli and fresh herbs. Also part of this set meal were some pork spring rolls which were seriously the best I have ever had, the skin was super thin and crisp without being oily at all and they were stuffed with a fantastic mix of pork mince, spices and crunchy cabbage. Simple and outrageously good.

I would come back here anytime when up in Ha Noi again, just ignoring the general hygienic threats of sampling street food and eating fast to avoid major back pains from the tiny dining furniture should do the trick. This was my favourite meal of the entire trip, I miss it already.

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Bún Chả Đắc Kim
1 Hang Manh Street
Old Quarter
Ha Noi
Vietnam
Tel: +84 (04) 3828 5022

Breakfast Pho.

imageAfter the soupy disappointment from the night before I spotted a pho station at the breakfast buffet of the ‘Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi’ we stayed at. This soup was different, even though nothing compared to ‘Pho Hoa’ in HCMC it was still miles ahead of yesterday’s bowl. The chicken soup, still light, had hints of cinnamon, giving it this distinct fragrance I love so much about pho and as it was breakfast I simply overlooked the fact that the noodles here were actually pretty soft as well. The added bunch of crunchy sprouts however ,made up for their lack in bite and even though the condiments were also limited to chili and lime here, the spice nicely kicked my butt and woke me up good.

This is a great hotel conveniently located in the business district of Ha Noi and the breakfast selection at the ‘Mangosteen’ nicely mixes Vietnamese and international cuisines. The pho was obviously not the most unique bowl I have ever had but this breakfast version made me curious to taste their à la carte bowl as well.

Mangosteen Restaurant (at Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi)
83A Ly Thuong Kiet Street
Hoan Kiem District
Ha Noi
Vietnam
Tel: +84 (04) 3822 2800
http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com/en/asia/vietnam/hanoi

Mediocre start with a nice safe.

imageIt was my first night in Hanoi and waiting for my brother to arrive later that night a friend and I went to get some grub at ‘Quan An Ngon’ around the corner from our hotel. The setup looked promising with a nice outside garden filled with tables and different stalls offering all sorts of Vietnamese favourites.

As a must start of every Vietnam trip and because it was rather chilly outside I started with a bowl of hot ‘Pho Bo‘. Unfortunately this turned out to be rather boring, even though the soup was warm and comforting it lacked that special taste and was not really different to any sort of ordinary chicken soup; no cinnamon and besides lime and chilli sauce no condiments to add. The noodles were pretty soft too and only the beef slices were nicely lean, soft and tasted kina nice. Not my greatest find but I had already heard that pho in the north is very different and less unique compared to the type you get down south.

imageNot fully satisfied I tried to turn things around by ordering ‘Bánh Xèo‘, the Vietnamese street style pancake I knew from HCMC and the street food festival in Singapore. When it came I was quite happy to see lots of greens on the plate as well as some rice paper to wrap it all up in. I knew this only as lettuce wraps but couldn’t wait to give it a try anyway. It turned out to be quite good, the crispy pancake, the basil and mint and the crunchy sprouts all worked quite well together and were fun to eat too. Overall this was a tad dry and nothing I would really call a taste explosion but still quite satisfactory and actually managed to reconcile me over the letdown with the pho.

This place is probably a good start for visitors to try out many different Vietnamese delights and phase into the local cuisine at an obvious clean place with friendly English speaking staff and a nice beer garden atmosphere. There are many other dishes to try here so I might come back and give them another shot when I’m in Ha Noi the next time around.

Quán Ăn Ngon
18 Phan Boi Chau
Hoan Kiem District
Ha Noi
Vietnam
Tel: +84 (04) 3942 8162
http://www.ngonhanoi.com.vn

Visiting Pho Bo At Home!

imageSome friends and I spend a weekend over in Saigon or Ho Chi Ming City in Vietnam for a birthday celebration and visiting a common friend at the same time. It was a weekend full of fun and delicious food but there was one particular place I heard a lot about before and which I definitely wanted to visit, ‘Pho Hoa’.

On our last day and as our last meal in Vietnam we made the trip not far from our hotel to the very beginning of Pasteur Street where this shop is located. When we arrived all the tables were pre-stacked with a big plate of herbs like basil, mint and mustard leaves, lime wedges, youtiao the fried dough sticks, bean sprouts and other dishes like ‘Vietnamese Wedding Cake‘, ‘Steamed Meat Cakes’, bananas and so on. I went for a mix of ‘Pho Tai‘ (raw meat) and ‘Pho Chin‘ (brisket) which came out the kitchen corner steaming hot. After mixing in herbs, chilis, lime juice and sprouts we started slurping. It was very nice and clean but I was hoping for more cinnamon which I think gives this dish a special twist. Nevertheless it tasted really nice. The noodles were ok but nothing too special about them. The brisket was nicely tender and long cooked but a little fatty on the edges. My favorite though was the raw meat. On the picture it looks like mince but it was super lean and lovely tender and juicy, so if I should come back here in the future this is the one I’m gonna get.

Overall this place is pretty good and I would definitely come back again but I might have overhyped my expectations as so often and was left slightly let down by the lack of cinnamon. I still really liked it and hope that Singaporean pho shops will also start offering herbal plates for self service eventually as I love my pho rather leafy.

For more of my pictures of ‘Pho Hoa’ and the other food from our Saigon weekend check out my twitter (#phohoa, #saigonfood).

Pho Hoa                                                                                                                                                             260C Pasteur Street                                                                                                                                     District 3                                                                                                                                                                 Ho Chi Ming City                                                                                                                                         Vietnam