Pho Chi Minh: Seoul’s Newest Pho Destination
Pho is having a bit of a ‘moment’ in Seoul right now. For so long the preserve of mediocre chain restaurants where broths were made from a premade mix and requests for cilantro met by confused looks, we now have – if not exactly an embarrassment of riches – at least some reasonable options for the national dish of Vietnam.
The snappily titled Pho Chi Minh in Gwanghwamun comes to us courtesy of one of the brains behind the crazy popular Southside Parlor bar in Gyeongnidan, Robbie Nguyen, and Dan Cho, a partner in the crazy popular Paulie’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Gwanghwamun. Located in the same D-Tower complex that hosts Paulie’s, Bill’s, Manimal Provisions and more, the decor and ambience is what you would expect of a nice mid-range restaurant in the area, but the word is well and truly out and getting a table during the lunch rush is as tricky as trying to cross against the lights in the middle of Hanoi.
The menu is split into two parts; the Vietnamese section comprises variations on beef pho with an assortment of appetisers and side dishes such as spring rolls, while the Chinese side of the menu focuses on rice and noodle dishes.
There are four varieties of soup on the menu. Phở tái is served with thin slivers of rare beef and a generous helping of rice noodles. The broth is light and clean-tasting, with no added MSG. Some visitors, particularly those raised on the deeper, richer pho found in the States or the transcendent versions found in the better Hanoi pho restaurants, may find it too bland. Adding some Sriracha and hoi sin sauce helps to amp up the flavor, as does a generous handful of the fresh cilantro, Thai basil and mint, as well as lime, provided with each order. (Pho snobs may balk at putting the sauces directly into the soup, but plenty of Vietnamese people, particularly in the south, do the same.)
Phở sate’ is a spicier take on the same dish, pimped out with a generous blob of oily chilli paste (which is not unlike a sambal) and some Vietnamese-style meatballs that are more like sliced sausage in consistency. All soups are priced around the 10,000 won mark, with larger sizes on offer for a couple of thousand more. Apart from the pho, you can get chả giò, addictive little deep-fried spring rolls stuffed with pork and served with pickled and some lettuce wraps, or gỏi cuốn (sometimes know as fresh spring rolls), crunchy little parcels of shrimp, fresh vegetables and vermicelli noodles rolled up in rice paper wrappers with a spicy dipping sauce.
On the Chinese side, the deep-fried shrimp purses were also very addictive, with a strong prawn flavour coming through, even if you don’t care for the sweet mayo dip served on the side. There are also American-inflected rice and noodle dishes like beef ho fun and chicken chow mein for those who crave something perhaps more suitable for dinner time.
No matter if it’s lunch or dinner, you should not leave without trying their cà phê sữa đá – slow drip Vietnamese coffee poured over crushed ice and sweetened condensed milk to give you a wonderful, creamy, turbocharged take on the usual iced coffee. It may not quite fool you into thinking you are sitting on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s about as close as you can get without hopping on a plane.
Pho Chi Minh
5th floor, D-Tower, 17 Jong-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
Open 11am – 10pm, seven days a week.