This was the second time I ate at Pho Mai, the first visit being a good one. Having heard numerous reports from friends that the quality varied drastically from almost sublime, to bath-water, the knot in my stomach tightened with every labored step. I arrived to find the lights off and doors locked, 2.10pm, said they opened at 2 online. I decided to call my sister for a few minutes and lo and behold, during my call the owner came out and opened the door.
Inside I just ordered the Beef Pho, forgetting to even look at the menu. I chose a vantage point that offered my back to the counter, and a view through a window. My bowl arrived after 5 minutes, placed down by the cheery older owner. He mentioned he was from Saigon, and beamed at the bowl before me quietly adding "This one is better than in Vietnam". Tho I won't call him a liar, he was stretching the truth. The Pho in Oslo doesn't hold a candle to most places in Ho Chi Minh, but far be it from me to go down memory lane now.
Soup was almost perfect. Deeply flavoured, nice hints (but not overpowering) spices, tender beef, solid noodles and a plate of accompaniments that you'd hope for. The addition of the small ginger slices was a treat, and after a few splodges of garlic-chilli paste the bowl sung wonderful melodies.
Mark Wiens travels the world to eat. I do the same, but just don't appear on camera, or get paid for it. After he spent some time in Chiang Mai he concluded that this spot had the best Khao Soi by far of anywhere else in town. Not a man who's opinion I take lightly, I had to go try it out for myself, because of course: taste is subjective.
I finished off my superb bowl at Mae Sai, and hailed another Grab taxi, got stuck in a huge traffic jam and managed to find this tiny shack miles out of town down some small streets that the taxi driver actually felt unsure driving down "I don't think Khao Soi here"... "Yes, yes.. straight and right side".
Found it. The friendly old ladies were in good cheer. They were out of Chicken so I settled for pork Khao Soi since the North is famous for it's pink gold. Sorrow washed over my face like a slow monsoon. The contents of the bowl stared back at me almost mirroring my grief. Thin, watery soup lay speckled with dots of red oil, suspended above were some crispy noodles and pieces of pork that looked tired and rubbery. Truth be told, the most unforgiveable part of this bowl were the noodles, raw, undercooked, gluey, pasty noodles that immediately were pushed to one side. The soup had some flavour but lacked any real umami, thin and desireless. Pork slices were tangy but dry. I ate what I could of the crispy noodles before they too became sodden in neglect. Embarrassed about leaving 3/4 of the bowl, I walked into the kitchen and just handed the lady a 100 baht note and didn't wait for change.
As I hurtled down the street away from my own sins of gluttony, she shouted after me "Change go to poor children".. I smiled and waved back. At least one good thing came of the visit, but good food it wasn't.
The quest to find a decent bowl of ramen in every country on earth.