Physically hindered by a buggered ankle, I spent a couple days longer than planned in Ipoh. As soon as it was on the mend I booked a bus ticket to the small town of Taiping, barely an hour away. Due diligence lead me to the 7 Villages Noodle House to try their famous Kuay Tiao.
It was raining (duh!), so I caught a cab. Settled in at the front outdoor section where I could watch the rain dropping like plump drunk flies. A super bowl of noodle soup was placed down before me. To my utter joy they had a delicous ginger-chili sauce on the table to kick things up a notch. This was a cross between a beef noodle soup and a chicken Pho, slippery noodles, consomme style clear broth, fish balls and a few chunks of shredded chicken thrown in for shits and giggles.
With belly full and smile intact (temporarily) I walked out into the rain and waited for my return cab under the sky instead of shelter.
My feet are a venerable fuck-fest when it comes to problems with my achilles, soles of the feet, arches, anything that goes really. It's been a real bone of contention (pun intended) for quite a few years now, and sometimes leaves me almost immobile which is fine if you have someone to fend for you, but quite problematic when you travel alone. Today the ankle struck!
I managed to hobble down the stairs at the hotel, slide into a taxi, head to a cafe to quell the caffeine pangs. Then set about searching for food within immediate vicinity. Lo and behold! A ramen spot, 25 meters away! I had to do it, for medical reasons.
Mad Ramen was visited, a bowl of black garlic tonkotsu broth ordered, green tea swilled, locale peered at. Bowl came, photos were taken, spoons dipped in, smiles returned to faces, pain momentarily forgotten, and the dance of the firm noodles took centre stage for a few hushed moments.
It's not every day I have a smoked duck ramen. Sitting alone in my hotel room in Ipoh feeling listless and full of regret, I scoured the internet for places to eat. This popped up on quite a few blogs with glowing reviews. 4.5 km away? Grab taxi! No problem. I managed to get there just before closing so I could eat in complete solitude, extra point already!
The noodles were soba, but solid. The broth was delicious and deep. The duck was pink and wonderfully smoked. The egg was quite good.
I am honestly shocked to find such high quality ramen in a small city in Malaysia, but as the past has taught me... discount nowhere or no-one!
The eternal search for perfection means you have to take a few for the team. Today, thankfully, was not one of those days.
I despise shopping malls more than then idea of hell or purgatory. In fact, if either of those concepts existed they probably are shopping malls with no exits. Today I was forced into Pavillion with it's rows of designer goods, horny shoppers gushing at the sight of a handbag, husbands dragged along swearing under their breaths at the potential carnage their mastercard will endure, kids screaming and protesting on escalators turning the entire cathedral of shit into a ringing tinnitus dagger. Thankfully there were no kids at the ramen spot.
I dug in my heels and ordered their signature bowl (with an egg). Shio Ramen is not something I order too frequently, but if its done right it can be delicious. This bowl was a touch on the bland side, though the pork, noodles and egg were all spot on. It was one of those experiences where the more you eat the more bored your palate gets instead of continuing to want to attack from different angles.
I paid and left, and hurried to the exit, and spilled out on open streets with more families with more screaming kids and idiots on their cellphone heading straight for collisions unless YOU move out of the way..... the future of the world is over. We are doomed.
Battling against the sweltering heat, pearls of sweat peeling off tanning skin, walking down dark alleyways until Madras Lane opens up like an oasis offering treats for the soul. Find the stall with the green bowls, order a curry laksa, pay the old lady grinning soul, occupy a chair of further intense heatspots, try to remain conscious whilst slurping down delicious broth and noodles and cockles and beans and all sorts of other hidden goodnesses. Wipe away sweat collecting above brow, replace sunglasses in victory proclamation, push plastic stool back into previous position, walk out into furnace and pray the AC was left on in the hotel room, buy a can of cold coffee and press it against your veins in a form of cooling repentance.
Gargantuan hopes of another ramen gem are chased with gusto. Grab Taxi's summoned, whisked off past blurred architecture, vapid skies bereft of rain, transcendental bowing trees. Ramen bowl purchased, interiors examined with judgemental eyes, broth sipped, spoon reset, noodles tamed and tempered, pork attacked with incisors but hastily dropped back into murky pond of tasteless soup. Disappointment. Utter wreckless display of japanese engineering. Sadness becomes me. I flitter off into regret.
On an insatiably hot day there are few things that sound as counter-intuative as a hot bowl of noodles. However, in some bizarre way, it does quell the serpents tongue.
My tuk tuk expertly wove its way in and out of Phnom Penh's traffic on the way to Davids. A small roadside restaurant famous for their hand-pulled noodles, which the cook proudly makes outside in full view of the road. I sat anxiously reading my book as he flipped and stretched the noodles meters away. The bowl was placed down, the soup looked rather thin and insipid. I decided to proceed with an open mind, and realised very quickly that I was right. The soup lacked any real depth and had been disguised from it's potential by adding a copious amount of cinnamon or star anise (or both) to "elevate" the rather mediocre broth. It took a lot of chili oil and soy sauce to make it palatable.
The main sin here were the noodles. If you're going to spend that much time making noodles from scratch, then don't overcook them. They were soggy and without any texture.
Duck breast was tasty, pok choi was also decent. Nothing else shone unfortunately...
With my stomach worse for wear after a dodgy Thali, I decided it canny to opt for something safe. Having eaten here almost 3 years ago, and remembering good things, I headed back. It's amazing how after so long, just the first sip of a broth can take you back. Immediately I remembered what the rest of the bowl would taste like, and I was right.
The overall review of this place is a good one, however there are things to work on. Firstly the pork is a bit chewy and lacking in flavour. Secondly, with no menma, nori or beansprouts to add texture it becomes a bit vacant. Thirdly, the egg is just an overdone boiled one with no discernable marinade.
If they tighten their apron strings and put a little more effort in, they will have a superb bowl soon. All the building blocks are there.
A tiny disaster of a ramen bowl. Overcooked eggs that were salty, menma that was inedibly salty, broth that was: you guessed it ......SALTY, and standard noodles and pork cut too thick for its level of tenderness.
This small ramen bar in the middle of Bassac Lane may be able to tempt in the late night drinkers, but if it wants to be taken seriously it's going to have to up its game substantially.
A hidden gem in a tiny bar area West of Mongkok. The shoyu ramen is a solid hitter without any of the added sparkle of MSG (something the ramen shop proudly displays). I personally have nothing against a little ajinomoto in my ramen, but to each their own.
I didn't get as much time as I wanted to check out multiple ramen spots in HK so I can't measure it against anything but a couple places, it was definitely worth a visit tho. Succulent pork, melt-in-your-mouth egg, slightly larger noodles with perfect chew, and a deep comforting broth.
Cocooned in the far corner, my favourite spot, I ordered a bowl of Tsukemen and waited quite a long time for it to arrive. The ramen shop is decorated heavily with Japanese memorabilia, and customer comment cards making it an interesting place to wile away the time.
The noodles were chewy and good, the broth had that fishy taste to it but wasn't overpowering. However, the sweetness of the broth was a tiny bit off-putting. I ended up overall enjoying the meal, but am questioning whether I would go back there or not.
20 minutes walk from Tsuen Wan MTR stop is this delightful, family run Malaysian eatery. I was tipped off about it from my local friends, who joined me for dinner so we managed to get through quite a few dishes.
The laksa was spot on! The Asam Laksa also, the rendang, literally everything on the menu was authentic and delicious. It's not a normal area for tourists to wander around but if you have the time, this place is a highlight.
Sometimes hunting a perfect bowl of noodles becomes a mini-adventure. I woke up in my hotel room in Mongkok, took the MTR to Lai Chi Kok, walked the streets temporarily lost, trying to guage my bearings, found the warehouse, found the right elevator, took it to the 1st floor and walked down the hallway until I started seeing posters and awards taped to the wall. The restaurant was JAM PACKED, so I was turned around and shown to the waiting room a little further down the hall.
Within 10 minutes a woman came in shouting my number and I was seated at the communal long tables, ordered beef noodle soup and a mountain tea and waited. The crowd of people in there were all smashing plates like they were going out of fashion, smiling rabidly. I grew expectant.
10 minutes later I had slurped the last of the broth down and eaten my last noodle. Who knew such good beef noodle soup could be made in Hong Kong in a warehouse. The beef was succulent and tender, the noodles still had bite, the broth wasn't amazingly deep but held its own and got much better when I added the home-made chili sauce.
This is one of those spots you have to be recommended, and when you do, you have to hunt it down!
The mighty men at Michelin awarded this humble noodle shop a coveted star. Even before that, the place was ram packed with locals in the know, so I simply had to spend over an hour getting there from Mongkok. I ordered the 3 topping bowl and set about attacking the monster. Not a super fan of fish balls, this behemoth was fantasic, the shrimp wonton was to die for, and the beef pieces were tender as hell. The only negative was the actual broth which lacked any real flavour, but I guess it's secondary to the toppings. Noodle-wise they were springy and had good texture, but due to the broths lack of flavour they suffered a bit too. I had to add a lot of chilli sauce to pep things up.
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.
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 prices, and the special was 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.
A year ago I took some friends here and watched in reverence as they spooned silky broth to their lips and their facial expressions changed to utter glee. This time another friend was visiting and after spending some time at Kim Hideaway Bar we plodded off to get ramen.
I ordered the regular Tonkotsu with egg. As with memories, you sometimes doubt that it really was THAT good, and the slight shudder of fear begins to creep in after talking so highly of it. Fears were brushed aside after 1 tender dip into the divine porcine remnants. Everything about this bowl is perfection. Not one single goddamn complaint or excuse. Near perfection.
With 24 ingredients going into the secret broth, this mega-chain is spreading it's gospel of Pho to all corners of Vietnam. Despite multiple visits to the country, this was my first foray into the establishment.
Reasonably priced, rather decent broth for being a conglomerate, tender beef, decent noodles and the usual condiments and accompaniments.
If you're stuck for lunch and happen to walk past one of these, there are far worse places to appease your famishment than here.
Enraptured in idle conversation with the receptionist whilst awaiting a SIM card delivery, I turned the subject towards Pho. "Any places in Vung Tau that you would highly recommend?". She didn't hesitate for a second: " Minh Tam, it's the best! Local taste". Moments before leaving my room I had googled "Best Pho in Vung Tau" on a Vietnamese food site (not tripadvi-sore), and SNAP, Minh Tam had the highest ratings.
I walked into the small roadside shop, pointed at the bowl on the menu that I wanted, took my seat and smelled the divine broth wafting over while flies buzzed around in confusing patterns racing invisible prizes. First sip and I was a convert. Second sip, a religious nut. This was the bowl you hope to find everytime you enter a new shopfront or store. This exact bowl. Broth so clear, yet deep and unctuous in it's slimline perfection, noodles soft but textured, beef a little on the chewy side but lets not be negative. This is one of those bowls that would be served to you on your deathbed and you wouldn't even throw a glancing look towards impending death, you would shakily pour in as much broth as you could handle through your dentured mouth.
Only a handful of places on earth could come close to this. This is almost perfection.
Obviously the first thing i'm going to do when I land back in Vietnam (apart from having a power nap) is to seek out a bowl of Pho. I trustingly read some blogs, narrowed it down to this one to be the first victim of my serious withdrawals (they couldn't win), and hammered down highways on the back of a motorbike taxi dispensing life and death decisions in miliseconds and milimeters to spare. We arrived, all limbs intact, and I walked in to find the restaurant oddly empty.
The proprieter, a legend in these parts, with his massive grin and obvious limp came roving over to my table eager to see what this white boy wanted. I ordered the brisket pho, a Larue beer and sat back watching the torrent of traffic weaving it's way by. In distinct memory of some of the best bowls I have ever had, not that nostalgia can be a cheeky tart, but knowing full well what an epic bowl tastes like this was a crushing punch in the testicles. Now, on any given day in Oslo I would be donating blood to have a broth that came close to this (especially after Hai Cafe shut down), but the feverous lack of any depth of flavour was illuminated like a thin dress caught in headlights. The brisket was tougher than concrete, the fat lines were 70% of the "meat" and inedible in their nausea. The noodles were standard, so no inflammatory remarks can be aimed at them.
I had to start adding a host of unnecessaries: Tons of chili paste, pepper, even more herbs than was called for, vinegar, literally threw the kitchen sink at the bowl to make it sing in some particular way, even if that were a castrated Italian choirboy singing "Ave Maria" burdened by the knowledge that though his notes are clear, his lower half is missing some vital bits and pieces.
With sorrow making lines across my face I was forced to leave half the bowl, pay, try to fake a smile, and walk hastily in any which direction just to get away from the aftermath of a semi-disastrous meal.
Scarily enough, I awoke this morning with sleep heavy on my eyelids, considered my options, and found myself needing another bowl of Pho. The night before I had met a delightful Vietnamese girl at a bar who's boyfriend was a rich American-Vietnamese cocky idiot, so while he bragged to a fellow American about his business acumen, I stole tips off her for places to eat in Danang. This was the first place she recommended.
The interior left little to the imagination, the kind of place you'd imagine getting sick if you touched anything that wasn't over boiling point. I crossed myself out of habit rather than belief. A steaming bowl of broth, noodles, greens, onions and beef pieces arrived at my table and I dove in headfirst. Broth was rather complex, a tiny bit thin in flavour but you got hints of where this was going. Possibly if it was left reducing another couple of hours it would be spot on. The noodles were the usual fare, the beef a little on the scary side so I left most of it.
All things considered it was a decent bowl of Pho, and definitely the second best I had in Danang after the Container place that shook my stereotypes to their foundations.
I'm not kidding. It's called Pho Container aaaaaaand: It's in a replica ship container. All sounds a little bit too gimmicky for me, but the reviews were solid and being a 2 minute ride from the apartment I had to give it a go. Especially after yesterdays crushing disappointment, I needed to redeem Pho for Vietnam!
I decided to splash out and order the "Aussie Beef" bowl which was 1 dollar more expensive than the others, but turned out to be the size of a bathtub. Fear shot through my pores at the size of this behemoth landing at the table carried by strong arms. First impressions, this looked pukka. I stirred the broth a little and took my first sip, unadulterated. Bingo! It had that clear, rich, slightly sweet broth that I had come to know and love with hints of star anise and other spices coming through gently. I tore apart the basil, coriander, red chillis, bean sprouts and loaded my bowl ready for attack.
3/5th's of a way down I had to throw in the towel. This was fantastic food, I just couldn't manage any more. I made my excuses, took some photos and left with a stomach equal parts content and at breaking point.
Most of you know that Pho and Ramen are two of my favourite dishes, so I judge them punishingly hard based on 30+ years of gorging on one type or another, in their native countries and various others. Sometimes you find a jewel of a Pho place in the strangest corner (like Odesa) but this was not one of those cases.
The rain was pummelling down on us as we hurried to get a bite before the start of the Champions League final. We sat the sign barking at us from across the road and decided a hot, comforting bowl of Pho would be the perfect medicine for the match.
We descended into the basement where a very hip crowd of mostly white people sat stuffing their faces with Vietnamese fare. I automatically worried. The service was decent, the prices rather insane, and the atmosphere slightly tacky. Beef pho with meatballs and rare steak.
All in all the meat was decent, though some pieces had a rather mealy texture to them, the noodles were standard, the accompaniments all the usual (deep fried shallots too), but the main problem was the broth. Overly sweet, not balanced at all. The type of broth you take one spoonful and think this might be promising and then its all downhill after. I wouldn't return. It really was that sweet, an the price didn't hold back either.
Short blog posts about my daily bowls.