In my veritable search for all food Asian in Paris, I came across this unique eatery in the 3rd, just off the rue Turbigo. Actually, it was Christine B who suggested we schlepp there to taste some Vietnamese Pho that mny had recommended on her Facebook page.
Nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soup on a cold winter’s day. And nothing beats a bowl of hot clear broth packed with complex flavours from a stock made with beef, herbs and spices. This broth, kawan kawan is called Pho. I thank the day that I discovered this tasty soup garnished with beef slices, onions, bean sprouts and coriander (cilantro). Mmmm, coriander! That day was way back in the late 80s in San Francisco. Late 80s? I hear you exclaim. Well, I’m no spring chicken, kawan kawan. And yes, I waited until the late 80s to discover Pho in America when I’ve been living half my life in SE Asia in a country that is practically a neighbour to the birth place of this delicious soup – Vietnam. When I was younger and living in Singapore, one just didn’t go to Vietnam unless you were a journalist, politician or a local returning home, let alone holiday there……for reasons quite obvious to many people.
My first visit to Ho Chi Min City (former Saigon), Vietnam was in 2007 with my sister from Arizona and her American husband, together with my sister from Singapore and both my parents who didn’t quite understand what the fuss about going to Vietnam was for us younger folk. I had RN in a stroller, she was a little over a year old and SS was a little over 9 – they were both very excited to be on this adventure. The trip was significant for its many memories. For daddy, it brought back bittersweet remembrances of growing up in rural Malaysia and as a young man in Singapore from the late 50s, into and after independence in 1965. Back then, Singapore was very similar to Ho Chi Min City in 2007.
For my American brother-in-law, it was in the visit to the Ku Chi Tunnels where we were shown propagandistic video tapes of the war from the Vietnamese perspective. Mitchy M heard Americans being referred to as ‘red devils’ who invaded the land of the Viet Cong. He tasted cakes made from the cassava root, cakes so dry and tasteless, that were consumed by the Viet Cong soldiers, men and women, during their hide out in the jungles. Mitchy M even crawled through a tunnel so small -”Vietnamese size, not American” as our guide explained – and just about made it back up through the trap door that snugly fitted around him. Just as well that Mitchy M is not of the larger build that most Americans are associated with.
For SS, it was the motorcycles that swarmed the streets of the city, beeping their way through them, some with washing machines and various other household goods strapped to the pillion seat. We were told by our very experienced tour guide that we should keep on moving while crossing the road: “No stopping or you’ll cause an accident!” She went on to explain that the motorcyclists will dodge us and there was nothing to worry about. And indeed, true to her words, if we just kept on moving, nothing untoward happened, except for the one time that daddy hesitated and got grazed by a very irate man with his pillion carrying empty industrial size water bottles, one under each arm and one in each hand. Daddy’s hesitance caused the driver to almost lose that very delicate balance that he’s worked out with his pillion and her empty bottles. I’ll leave you to picture this sight in your head. Crossing the road in this manner with a 9 year old and a toddler in a stroller was very hairy, kawan kawan but we survived to tell the tale.
For my sisters and me, our memories were of the city’s covered market where food and goods were sold. Here we witnessed bottles of alcohol preserved insects, mostly scorpions and the odd snake. The insects garnished the alcohol, a type of home brewed whisky, meant to induce virility in men. We bought fruits that we munched on and chewed along the way, discarding their skins and seeds as we went along, like the locals did, leaving behind us a Hansel and Gretel trail of pips and stones. Then we bargained to lower the prices of Vietnamese hats and other souvenirs to take home. Haggling or bargaining is an Asian past time that a traveller sojourning in Asia has to learn and retain as part of his/her repertoire of life skills. Once equipped with this skill, one can travel in Mexico, Turkey and Africa, armed to purchase any souvenirs at the best price.
The Italian simply took very beautiful photographs.
Then we discovered Pho 101! This was an air-conditioned, sanitised eatery that served the nation’s speciality.
Its Parisian counterpart is a hole in the wall version that sits 24 people intimately. Christine B and I arrived a little past 12 noon and there were only 2 places left, enough for us. We sat next to two fresh faced French girls, eagerly waiting for their Vietnamese noodles. The dry version of Pho is called Bo Bun, served with the same accoutrements and an additional nem, a Vietnamese spring roll. So, if like these French girls, soup noodles are not your thing, don’t despair!
By the time we had finished, there was a long line of very hungry people, rubbing their hands either to keep warm or in anticipation of their imminent lunch.
When looking for this little eatery, don’t be tricked by two other Asian eateries that come before. One even has a sign that says Pho. Persist like we did and walk a couple of doors down to the end of the street and you will find Pho 3, the real McCoy. You will not regret it. And come early to avoid the queue.
5 Rue Volta, 75003
Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple