The end of the line.
Perfection. Quynh and Hung are worthy competitors but if it came down to a day left on earth, and one last bowl of Phô it would have to be this one. The brisket one at Quynh is absolutely phenomenal, but the broth here just ticks it slightly over... i'm talking SLIGHTLY.
Both are worthy of time and investment and lots of sips and sighs, but if you come to HCMC for one day only, then get a Grab taxi and hurry down here.
(In)famous for the fact that then President Bill Clinton ate 2 bowls, this shop opened in 1999 and proudly declares that it serves "Presidential Broth". Ehem.
First of all, what in all honesty would Bill Clinton know about Phô? Sure, it is a relatively tasty bowl of noodle soup, but there are far better in Saigon.
I hadn't entered Phô 2000 since my first visit to Vietnam almost 10 years go. Instinctively on further trips to the city I avoided it with the same fear I shed on places like KFC. For some reason it always looked like a fast-food joint, even tho I remember enjoying it the first time around. Relatively weather-beaten and sea-worn I decided if I was to compile a list that would be taken seriously I would have to try it again.
Honestly, I almost looked over my shoulder walking in. For no reason at all other than it was right next to one of the worst places in Saigon: Ben Thanh Market. A diseased watering hole for all the abject tourist wank you could ever imagine: The death-penalty inducing banana shirts, elephant pants to enrage the most ardent pacifist, dumb t-shirts emblazoned with Phòk That and the squeal of a tourist who thinks they got a good deal after bargaining for 30 minutes to get a 10 cent discount. Oh well.
Curtly: The soup was decent, especially after adding the condiments. The noodles were good and had a slight firmness to them still. The outstanding part here was the beef. Far more tender and "good cut" than most places you eat at on the street. Your 80.000 Dong won't buy you the best Phô in town, but it will get you a respectably decent meal in return.
My pho and noodle adventures take me to some strange neighbourhoods in random cities. Today was no exception. After spending the evening before poring over articles, newspaper scans and "insider info" the decision was made to head to District 1 and check this place out.
My grab driver looked at me with a bewildered stare when he read the address out to clarify I knew where I was going. He then took to the wheel and expertly wove his way between scooters like a skilled craftsman. Dropping me off a few meters away I took the opportunity to walk over to the river for a brief respite from the incessant movement of vehicular kind. I paused and gazed out over the brown, lilting water, but the moment was partially ruined by the sound of honking behind me and the plethora of plastic floating it's way to some ocean to poison the earths heart.
An english menu was placed in front of me. I had read various grumbles from experts galore about the infamy of being charged 100k for a bowl of soup at this place. Fear's were allayed when the menu clearly stated the following:
Yes, you can get a couple for 100k, but you can also do what I did and order the medium bowl with rare beef and meatballs and eat to your stomachs content for 60k.
Price aside, what really matters is the food. On this occasion I have to admit this was one of the weaker bowls I have had in Saigon. First off the broth was examined unadulterated, it was off-puttingly sweet. I then tried the noodles and beef, good....ok.....fine. The beef balls had a strange overpowering garlic taste to them which didn't sit right. I applied herbs, lime juice, chilis and sauce and still couldn't rescue it. For once I decided to not be polite for the sake of it, and I paid and left with 3/4 of the bowl remaining. With so few days in Saigon, I don't have the luxury of wasting meals on mediocre food.
One positive that came out of it was walking around the corner and finding a small biker bar that served me a nice cup of coffee and a comfortable chair to sit in and listen to some good old rock music. Every cloud......
Look. I've had some bloody good bowls of ramen over the years in Saigon. Two of those shops being 100 meters from Mutahiro. On the ferry over from Vung Tau I decided to spend the 2 hours productively flicking through blogs and reviews of Pho, Ramen and Vietnamese street food since i'd be spending a couple more days in the city and needed some bliss. Mutahiro suddenly popped up at the top of quite a few different pages, despite me never having heard of it on previous visits. Intrigued I read on. After ploughing through countless 5/5 reviews, or blogs hammering on about "ramen perfection" I made up my mind to throw my bag into my hotel room and head straight there.
2 hours later I was walking through the tiny alleyways of "Little Japan" in Saigon, a seedy, lively part of town and home to all the best Ramen shops. Danbo was behind me, Tomidaya straight ahead, and Mutahiro appeared at the end of the street down an inconspicuously narrow alley. This wouldn't be a place you happened upon accidentally, you would have to track it down. Eagerness overshadowed by nerves I entered to the rattling shouts of "Irasshaimase!!". Both corners were taken (DAMN) so I had to sit in the middle next to two salarymen grunting into their beers.
The special shoyu was ordered with egg (of course), and a cold glass of water poured to dampen the insane pollution this city sweats out daily.
Sip Sip................... OH MY FREAKING GOD!... Memories came flooding back from the first time's I sipped the holiest of broth's in Tokyo amongst gasps for air, screams of exhortation and the ravaging need to spoon gallons more into your mouth in case you suddenly had a heartattack and wanted this to be your final mouth-memory. This was rich, deep, fatty (but not greasy) heaven. The noodles were actually buckwheat (Soba), so different to regular Ramen noodles, but tasted fantastic despite their slightly softer texture. There was a slice each of pork and chicken, something I had not encountered before. The chicken was some of the moistest, flavoursome chicken I'd ever eaten in a bowl. This must be sous vide? Not to be outdone, the pork shone through with it's delectable thicker cut tenderness and mountains of flavour. I slurped myself into a frenzy without paying any heed to the other people around me in this 12 seat shop. Dizzy with bliss I paid my bill, bowed and thanked all the chefs, and went on my merry way pinching myself to make sure this wasn't a dream.