I've sucked them up all over town. Up alleys, down lanes, in gutters, next to churches, with exhaust fumes puffing in my face, with a grandad coughing his last bark in a bed right next to me. Pho knows no boundaries in Hanoi. Morning, noon and night, these noodles are slurped as a snack, a meal, a cure for a cold, a chill or a hangover.
Almost 18 months ago, I began crapping on in public about Hanoi's signature dish on this blog by way of the Hanoi Pho Swoop. There was talk of some mythical scrap of paper known to some as the Hanoi Pho Map. It hasn't materialised. I've abandoned that search. Its urban legend status remains unchanged.
Do not despair, however, as I have solid findings about pho, not on a map per se but found easily enough on the back of any xe om worth his ounce of street cred.
I present to you, dear readers.....
THE STICKYRICE 'HANOI PHO SWOOP' TOP TWENTY SLURPS
(as at 26/11/07)
1. Best Pho Ga By Far So Far (posted 26/7/06)
"Get me a whole bird in my soup!"
2. Would You Queue For Pho (2/8/06)
"...a joint that Hanoians spruik up as one of the places to slurp one's noodles"
3. Pho Corner (12/9/06)
"...cleavered chicken pieces, diced up hearts and livers, sliced fillets of breast covered in lime leaf needles, a huge pile of fresh pho, a pot, a sieve, a ladle and some bowls"
4. Thick Pho (4/12/06)
"...extra thick noodle straps...add an indefinable dimension here"
5. Clean Stern Pho (3/9/07)
"all of the Hanoi standards are rigidly adhered to: floral bowls, tick; bamboo sticks, tick; red sauce in plastic cups, tick; lime wedges, tick; refuse underfoot, tick!"
6. Pho Franchise (9/11/06)
"classy almost minimalist, a far cry from the cluttered detritus of the average family pho show in Hanoi"
7. Old Quarter Market Pho Ga (13/8/07)
"...plenty going in to each bowl here, birdwise and otherwise"
8. Major Pho Stop (10/2/07)
"Three white-coated pho maids head up this operation"
9. Up Market Pho (7/10/06)
"...no slap dash affair. Someone cares"
10. Crabby Faced Pho (29/7/07)
"Retro-post-war-functional and communist"
11. Pho Map Installment No.15 (16/4/07)
"Fine cow indeed!"
12. Stumbled Upon Pho (11/7/07)
"...all deafening shout and bang here"
13. Pho Ga Blur (8/8/06)
"...this rambling kerbside affair is an evening only slurp in a dark section of the old quarter"
14. Religious Pho (13/3/07)
"... a drop of it might have descended from the original Hanoi pho pot from a century or so ago"
15. Pho Poser (10/7/06)
"...there's half a cow on board this bowl"
16. Market Street Pho Ga (21/1/07)
"... a space no bigger than a prison cell, lit similarly with bright fluorescent light"
17. Pho Map Installment No.16 (25/6/07)
"Steaming and robust, shiny yellow oil pills dotting the surface"
18. Friendly Grotbox (17/11/06)
"...bargain basement territory..."
19. More Pho Tails (20/8/06)
"... a definitive little pinch me moment of "bloody hell, I live in Vietnam"
20. Pho Map Installment No.2 (18/8/06)
"...chewy, fatty and if I think too hard I might be forced to spit it into a serviette"