Vietnamese cuisine saw a global surge in popularity following the end of the Vietnam War and the resulting Vietnamese diaspora, particularly in the US, Europe, and parts of Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese food scene in the Klang Valley has exploded over the past few years, from being a speciality cuisine confined to one or two restaurants, to well over a dozen independent outlets in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
Vietnamese-style noodle soup, pho — especially beef pho — is considered quintessentially Vietnamese, although it is relatively recent, originating in the early 20th century in North Vietnam.
The popularity of pho has led to numerous interpretations, with different regions in Vietnam developing their own versions. Recipes are often closely guarded family secrets. The variety found outside Vietnam is usually South Vietnamese-style pho.
Pho Vietz has outlets in shopping malls in KL and PJ. The One Utama outlet is cheerful, in a yellow and blue colour scheme with wall prints and faux plant borders. A good variety of pho types is on offer as well as a comprehensive selection of Vietnamese dishes, including rice and banh mi. The restaurant uses Australian-sourced beef and free-range chicken.
The best-selling 4-Beef Combo Noodle Soup (RM19.90) features beef slices, shank, brisket and beef balls in a large bowl pre-mixed with vegetables — fragrant basil, green onion slices and spring onion — with thin-cut flat rice noodles. Cut chili and a slice of lime complete the dish.
The soup is intense, dark and robust, with a smooth, rich beefy flavour. The pieces of beef are thick and chunky as pho goes, and they are superb, being dense and lean with a fresh, meaty flavour. Even the beef balls are big and heavy, to the extent that this feels more like a beef than a noodle dish. The noodles are relatively thick in density and the overall size is big, making this a hefty meal. It is the choice of the red meat lover, with a strong masculine flavour and generous portions of premium beef.
Super Saigon Pho Café
Super Saigon specialises in “Melbourne-style” pho. The restaurant in Taman Tun Dr Ismail is bright, with a blue and white theme and some plastic plants within for a touch of green. Pho is the star here, with various permutations of beef pho and a vegetarian option, as well as a smattering of other Vietnamese dishes. The restaurant uses Australian beef.
The premium offering, the Special Beef Combination (RM19.90) is a large bowl of noodles with sliced beef, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef balls. Bean sprouts, basil leaves and cut chili are served separately, to be added by the diner.
The beef broth is light and sweet, yet beefy without being strong. In spite of the size of the bowl, the portion is not daunting, with light, smooth noodles and plenty of spring onions. The beef slices are thinly cut and just cooked in the hot broth, leaving them pink, tender and sweet. In contrast, the beef brisket slices are coarser, with a thin ribbon of fat at the edges. Pieces of beef tendon and tripe add to the variety. The beef balls are small and cut into half. Various sauces allow the diner to personalise the broth to their individual taste.
Pho King has a simple, unfussy interior in pale shades, a bright orange wall at the far end and prints on the walls. It has a smaller selection of Vietnamese food, with pork and beef pho, as well as salad noodles and snacks. It also uses Australian beef.
The Traditional Vietnamese Beef Noodles (RM15.50) mixes beef brisket with “Australian rare beef slices”. The pho is served in a deep triangular bowl, rather than a round one, and is a reasonable size. It was steaming hot when served. Basil leaves, raw beansprouts, cut chili and a slice of lime are served separately, so diners can enjoy their pho “Hanoi-style” or “Saigon-style” with or without adding the herbs.
The broth looks quite dark, with thin beef and brisket slices sharing the deep bowl with a good portion of noodles, garnished with sliced spring onions, coriander and green onions. Appearances notwithstanding, the broth is the lightest and sweetest of the lot, with an almost delicate flavour. The beef slices are thin and tender, balancing well with the springy noodles. The portion is not heavy, yet it makes for a substantial meal with a light side dish.
So there we are, three different pho restaurants, each with its own take on the traditional Vietnamese favourite, with enough variation between them to satisfy differences in preference and taste, and there are many more pho restaurants besides. There has never been a better time to reach out for a bowl of pho.
Pho Vietz, Lot S312, 2nd Floor, High Street, One Utama Shopping Center, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya. 03 7731 1653. Daily, 10am-11pm.
Super Saigon Pho Café, 28, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman TTDI. 03 7732 8874. www.supersaigon.com.my. Daily, 11.30am-10pm.
Pho King, 153, Jalan SS2/6 Petaling Jaya. 018 3510 513. Friday to Wednesday, 12noon-9pm.