Emoi: The New Vietnam (Food) War

by Monica Williams
Groove Korea

At Emoi, the piping hot pho comes in three varieties. All have the right ingredients: a rich and flavorful broth, generous slices of beef, fresh rice noodles, and toppings of cilantro and scallions. The standard bulgogi pho (11,000 KRW) contains a leaner cut of beef than the premium, offered for 1,000 won KRW, but it’s no less tasty. The broth, boiled for 24 hours, is chock-full of meat but light and almost clear, and is the most flavorful I’ve had in Seoul.

When the restaurant opened in late 2015 , both foreign and Korean foodies heralded it as an improvement over the established chains serving food from the southern part of the country. For starters, the place “felt” authentic, with tea served on arrival, red chopsticks, imported plates and Vietnamese art and lighting serving as a contrast to the wooden walls. My companion and I were comfortable here. The food wasn’t entirely unfamiliar as pho has been served throughout Seoul for a while, but there’s a difference. One of the secret weapons to Emoi’s success is likely its in-house noodle machine, which churns out wide noodles daily. There’s no mistake about their freshness; you see and taste it.

The bun cha (13,000 KRW), made with grilled pork, is served with the same wide noodle as the pho, and may be a turnoff for purists used to the thinner white rice noodle. Perhaps the dunking sauce will make up for it, with its fish-based flavoring that’s pungent but not overpowering. Both dishes come with bird’s eye chili, pickled garlic and cilantro; if you’re aren’t sure where to mix what, there’s instructions on the menu but the empty bowls are designed for experimentation. Diners can spice up their noodle dishes with a squirt or two from the Sriracha or hoisin bottles at the table, but it’s better to use the accompanying chilies or the fresh garlic.

There’s not much else on the menu, but in Hanoi pho for breakfast and bun cha for lunch go a long way. In Vietnam, pho is the quintessential hangover cure, said corporate manager Park Jeong An. Fittingly, the Itaewon branch, open 24 hours, draws crowds in the wee hours of the morning.

Rau muong, or morning glory, a stir-fried water spinach (9,000 KRW) is a complement to either of the entrées. In Vietnam it’s served with most meals. At Emoi, it’s seasoned with chili, fish, and soy sauces, and sautéed in garlic, to give it a flavorful saltiness. It was perfect for me, but a bit salty for my companion’s taste. Nem and com rang, which is fried rice with vegetables, shrimp, egg and fish sauce (9,000 KRW), round out the food menu.

The Vietnamese brands of beer (Hanoi, Saigon and Saigon Special) all have low alcohol content and pair nicely with the food, costing 5,000 to 6,000 KRW.

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