Tag Archives: Vietnam

Two for Pho

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.


Pho 3

5 Rue Volta, 75003

Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple


Crêpe Canette

It was Saturday afternoon, 4pm.  RN had just stirred from a long afternoon nap and SS was on her way home from hanging out with her friends.  They went to a movie in VO (English) set in 1930s America about an abused elephant and a pair of star crossed and frustrated lovers.  Nothing very impressive, she reported. She just wanted to hang out with her friends.

The Italian was twiddling his thumbs, ‘We must profiter from the nice weather, let’s go out!’ he said impatiently.   Where?  Where?  I asked.  He furrowed his forehead and cupped his hand over it.  This is the stance of the thinking Italian. ‘St Sulpice in St Germain.’  Well, I couldn’t pass up an offer to go to St Germain.  I love this arrondissement in Paris with its funky retail shops and quiant bistros.

St Sulpice, constructed during the 13th century is dedicated to Sulpicious the Pious and is one of the most beautiful churches in Paris.  It is only slightly smaller than the Notre-Dame and the second largest church in The City Of Light.  I had been on a tour recently and had learnt some very interesting facts about this église.

I just love it that I live in the city that houses the church surrounded by the controversy over the Meridian line, caused by the renaming of it to the Rose Line in Dan Brown’s  “The Da Vinci Code”.  The Meridian Line is a gnomon that charts the positions of the sun in the sky.  There is even a placard to disclaim the existence of a made up sect – the Priory of Sion – which Dan Brown had created in his story.  In fact, the P stands for Peter and the S stands for Sulpice.

Kawan kawan, I got carried away.  I was going to tell you about the highlight of this outing.  And that is the dinner we had at La Crêperie des Canettes on the Rue des Canettes.  This little street was named after a frontispiece depicting some ducks set in a rural scene which sits rather obscurely above a particular door in the middle of the street.  You’d have missed it if you didn’t have a guide to tell you to look up.  Thank goodness for Paristours, run efficiently by a good kawan of mine.

I ordered the Galette Brise which consisted of a tuna salad atop a buckwheat crêpe. Look at this beauty:

The Brise

The iceberg lettuce was sweet and crunchy on the bite and just parfait for warmer weather. What gave this simple salad the umami was the aioli (garlic mayonnaise) dressing that had been drizzled on the top.  I was also pleasantly surprised to discover slivers of fresh raw garlic amongst the leaves of iceberg.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I love garlic.  The more the merrier, in my books.  Garlic has so much medicinal properties like Vitamin C which wards off colds and flu, antioxidants that protect the body from harmful free radicals, thinking anti-aging kawan kawan.  It is even lauded for being a broad spectrum antibiotic that the body does not grow resistant to. Garlic contains a substance called Allicin which has anti-bacterial properties akin to a mild penicillin.  Daddy eats everything with garlic.  Guess where I developed my love for this herb, kawan kawan?  His guarded chilli recipe is infused with the stuff.  He was known to have traveled extensively with a bottle of this magic chilli sauce all over the world, sharing it with friends and colleagues.  Well, daddy has the cholesterol level of a 40 year old man and he just turned 80.

The Italian loved his Sicile being Italian afterall.  Look at it:

The Sicilian

Regardez the generous heaps of mushrooms, onions, olives, tomato slices and jambon.  Yummy! Bagus!

The girls both had a simple pancake, one with only jambon and the other,  jambon and eggs.  Both were very tasty.  RN was thrilled that she could eat her dinner independently, slicing up the thin crêpe toute seule. SS liked hers cos it reminded her of fried eggs and ham.

Ham Pancake

The Galette is a buckwheat pancake that originated in Bretagne.  It is considered a type of fast food or food on the go, easy to order for emporter at a crêperie. One can have a crêpe whilst walking home from work or window shopping along the Rue Faubourg St Honore. There are many recettes for the galette.  One can eat it stuffed like the girls or with the ingredients sitting atop the pancake.

This has brought to mind a trip the family made to Vietnam one year.  It was a family reunion for the Wongs, with the sister from Arizona and her ang moh husband and the sister from Singapore traveling sans enfants and mari.  That was a true sign of independence for this sister.  The parents came in tow too.

The sister from Arizona had a craving for Bahn Xeo, a Vietnamese crêpe like pancake made from rice flour stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimps and bean sprouts.  It is usually eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with mint and dipped in a sauce made of lime, sugar, garlic and chillies in a base of fish sauce – Nuoc Mâm. Truly sedap!

Look at this picture I found on the internet:

Bahn Xeo

La grande famille tracked all the way to a famous restaurant tucked in a very narrow alley where 2 Vietnamese women sat on low stools making these savoury pancakes.  It was indeed a fabulous eating experience. Well worth the trip that entailed dragging along a 2 and half  year in a poussette and a stroppy soon to be teenager, hot from the equator sun and hungry from a morning of sight seeing.

Making Bahn Xeo

Being in a crêperie meant that dessert would be….crêpes.  The sweet ones are usually made from froment (wheat).  I had mine with caramel buerre salé.  It was really yummy!  I discovered this sweet/savoury mixture in Paris, never having had it before.  I like the combination of sweet and salty.  But look at what SS ordered:

Crêpe with caramel buerre salé and vanilla ice cream

The Italian ordered one that came with calvados, an apple brandy from the region of Basse-Normandie.  It was specially served with a flame on top – flambée:

Crêpe Flambée

Kawan kawan, whenever you find yourself at the St Sulpice near makan time, you can walk over to La Crêperie Des Canettes, 10 rue des Canettes 75006, Tél: 01 43 26 27 65. Remember though, they are closed on Sundays so the chef can return on Mondays, rested and refreshed to make us more wonderful pancakes.