I recently learned that there is an austere version of pho, without all the add-ins, and it is supposedly more akin to the original version. The article said that Hanoi residents look down on all the greenery and sprouts that I have gotten accustomed to. I have also been told that the flavor is stronger in this northern pho. My informant said he didn't know where I could find it locally (San Diego). He suggested Little Saigon in Westminster, but still didn't have any names.
Any experience with this style?
As far as I know, Hanoi pho is only found in Hanoi, and inside the homes of Vietnamese from Hanoi.
Everything you said above about Hanoi pho is true, except that the flavor is not stronger, but more subtle. Hanoi pho can only truly be made on the street, as this is the way it is traditionally made. So trying to start a restaurant serving Hanoi pho is impossible.
Ordering Hanoi pho is very simple, since it comes with few variations. I've never seen a menu.
Sometimes, the Hanoi pho vendor will also have one other item on the menu - bun thang. Bun thang is a distinctly Hanoian chicken noodle soup which is not done correctly outside of Hanoi, except in the homes of Vietnamese from Hanoi.
You cannot truly understand pho until you have had the original from Hanoi. It's really good.
I had quite a few bowls of Ha Noi pho and don't remember a significant difference in flavor to the phos we ate all over the country (we spent 4 weeks in Vietnam, traveling from Cambodia to China) other than that the greens were already in the bowl when we sat down (see attached photo)
So my suggestion to you is get a steamy, delicious, cheap bowl of pho at your favorite Little Saigon joint and put that money you're saving towards a plane ticket!
I"m glad I"ve had Pho in Hanoi. Understand Pho I can now says Pho Yoda.
The Pho in Hanoi is fine. Beef Pho? Not really the specialty. In Hanoi, I get Pho Ga (Chicken). Personally, I prefer the Pho Bo (Beef) in the South.
But you bring up an excellent point. Vietnamese food is all about the regions. North, Central and South are all very different. I think one of the reason you don't see the greens in Northern Pho is that the South has better soil for growing things. In fact, the Mekong Delta is one of the most fertile regions in the world.
OK, now is the time for some things besides Pho. If you are interested in the cuisine from the North, my favorite is Bun Cha Ha Noi. It is Bun with Pork that is cooked in a really funky fish sauce. I like the version at Quan Hop in Little Saigon.
Nem Nuong Spring Rolls and Bun Bo Hue are from the central part of the country. In Vietnam, people like to eat Pho often, but they really get crazy for Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef noodles). Hue-style food is very respected and you get some dishes that are very unique to the region. Spring Rolls with Nem Nuong (BBQ pork meatballs) and Bun Bo Hue are fantastic at Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa in Alhambra. I eat there all the time.
Back to Pho... I thought Pho Thanh Lich was a bit more like the Northen Style. Maybe I'm wrong. Haven't been there in awhile. But there Pho is quite good.
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
1700 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803
Pho Thanh Lich
14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683
Quan Hop Restaurant
15640 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683
9028 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683
Pho Ga Restaurant
741 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
It would indeed be difficult to find. Most Vietnamese abroad come from South Vietnam because South Vietnam was allied with America during the war. Even those of Northern origin (such as myself) emigrated by way of South Vietnam. My parents came from suburbs of Hanoi and speak the Northern dialect, but they fled to South Vietnam as teens and fled again to the States many years later. I've been around Vietnamese food and Northerners all my life and have never seen it eaten the Hanoi way. My mom even makes pho with the greenery. Pho has basically evolved to become a dish with vegetable accroutrements, even in the minds of Vietnamese people. I do not agree that Northerners look down on this style of eating at all. The lack of greenery in the Hanoi style I believe is more incidental than intentional in the way the dish originated. The North was historically poorer than the South and this led to the lack of fresh herbs and greenery in the dish.
I don't think the broth is any different, and if it is, then it is probably too subtle to really notice. We're not talking about fine dining here. It's just pho after all. The difference lies mostly in the condiments. From what I understand, Northerners don't add a lot of the greens to their pho, nor do they use the tableside sauces. They instead flavor their pho with onions soaked in vinegar and fish sauce. Also, they prefer their sprouts to be served blanched instead of raw. And I think they use the flat noodles but that might not be a regional thing.
So, aside from the flat noodles, I'm sure you can eat your pho "northern style" at any restaurant. I'd be surprised if the soup is actually any different, but if you want, you can look for restaurants with the word "Bac" in their names, which literally means "Northern." There is also a Hanoi restaurant on Bolsa, but I have never tried their pho. Everytime I go, I end up ordering their Bun Rieu Oc (ground crab/snail noodles in a tomatoey broth), which I love there, and their Banh Tom (fried shrimp/sweet potato concoction) which everyone always orders.
Pho Bac Ha - 15579 Brookhurst, Westminster - newly opened, (June, 2010), northern recipe. Excellent reviews.