Pho is a Vietnamese soup dish, which is usually made up of a tasty broth with beef or chicken, with herbs floating on top and rice noodles underneath. The best part of the warm and hearty soup is also being able to add crunchy bean shoots, chilli and basil on top, to suit your taste. I personally tried my first pho at Au Lac vegetarian restaurant in Woden and enjoyed it so much, that I began trying out other venues in comparison. During the colder months in Canberra, many locals - including myself - go in search for hot comfort food to warm themselves up from the inside on a chilly, grey day in the Capital. Pho just hits the spot!
As I have never been to Vietnam, where I understand pho is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I haven't experienced what an authentic pho tastes like. Do you have a favourite place that you visit in Canberra for a particularly delicious or traditional pho? If so, please leave a comment at the top of this article and share your discovery. Meanwhile, these are the venues that I have discovered and all of them have hit the spot on a cold, chilly day. When you are delivered a hot bowl of steaming hot soup - why would you want anything else?
Pho Tai Bo Vien - Rare Beef Noodle Soup with Beef Balls - Vietnam House Woden
Vietnam House is located in Woden, on the strip of restaurants outside Woden Westfield shopping centre on Corrina Street. Every time I have visited this restaurant, other diners have had their heads down over bowls of steaming hot pho, completely enamoured with what they were eating. My family recently returned to see why it was so popular and after one slurp, it was obvious. The broth was flavoursome, the ingredients were fresh and the meat deliciously tender with every bite. On our visit, I was getting over a head cold and this really was the ultimate antidote - I left feeling 100% better! The bowls come in small or large for approximately $14 - $15, with 5 different meat choices on the menu. See here for details and here for a full article on Vietnam House, Woden.
Au Lac vegetarian restaurant, as mentioned at the start of this article, was my first experience in trying the dish pho. It is located just a few doors down from Vietnam House above, on Corrina Street, Woden. What I particularly liked about the Au Lac version was, although not traditional, my pho contained soy chicken and tofu - which were particularly tasty and kept me digging into the bowl searching for more. It was also jam-packed with ingredients, good value and one of the stand-outs on this list. See here for a full article on Au Lac Royal Vegetarian Cuisine, Woden. Au Lac is also located in Dickson, north of the city.
Au Lac Pho Soup with Soy Chicken - Special Vietnamese Pho broth in vegan style, dressed in thin slices of soy chicken, crunchy tofu and rice noodles. Served alongside a plate of bean sprouts and basil leaves ($12.90)
iPho is a casual Vietnamese eatery, located right in the heart of Canberra's city centre in Garema Place. The location makes it easily accessible for local workers, students and visitors to pop in and warm up with a delicious bowl of steaming hot pho. There are several tables inside and also just as many outside, within a plastic shelter to protect diners from the wind and rain. On my visit to check out their pho, I was happy to see a wide range of pho choices on the menu, including a vegetarian option which was particularly delicious on a cold autumn day. If you didn't want pho in particular, there are also other soup options and rice vermicelli noodle salads, which were equally as popular. See here for details.
There are over 20 Vietnamese restaurants and outlets across the city, all with their unique menus and traditional offerings to enjoy. Which one is your favourite? Although I am still a firm fan of the Malaysian laksa, pho is another tasty pick-me-up on a chilly winters day - guaranteed to warm up even the coldest hands and toes!
Traditional beef pho from Ipho, Garema Place. Image: iPho Facebook
Sai Gon Pho in Queanbeyan. If you can find better pho in the Canberra region, let me know.
My wife and I love pho. In the past few months, we have tried at least five places in Canberra and two places in Queanbeyan in the quest for the best pho. Simply put, this little place, tucked away in a nondescript pedestrian laneway off the main street in Queanbeyan, is it. The pho here is so good that I really am in two minds about submitting this review lest it encourage even more people to come here thereby making it harder for us to get a table!
What makes it so good? The critical component of pho is the broth. The broth here is quite phenomenal. It has a great depth and intensity of complex, beautiful flavour. You could honestly get away with not adding anything to it and it would still taste great. I could not say the same of anywhere else I have had pho.
The first sign that the pho here is going to be superior is the amount and freshness of the bean sprouts and, particularly, the Thai basil. It's fresh as in 'freshly picked straight out of the garden' fresh. None fresher in Canberra. Also, they provide four types of chilli: Fresh chilli, Sriracha chilli sauce (the red bottle at the table), chilli paste in oil and pickled chilli paste. I have not seen this anywhere else. I love chilli and thoroughly recommend adding all four. But for those somewhat wary of chilli, Sriracha sauce is not really hot and the pickled chilli paste is not hot. Of course, there is also the hoisin sauce (the brown bottle at the table) for additional flavour and a touch of sweetness. I recommend adding it. Make sure you squeeze the lemon wedge into the soup for that note of contrasting sourness.
My wife and I come here just about every week. Quite literally nearly every week. And we see the same people here every week. This place is clearly inspiring a dedicated following. Beyond the food, the service is friendly and efficient and the place is very neat and clean. Unfortunately, Sai Gon Pho has been closed over Christmas and it is killing me! But they re-open on Saturday 12 January. See you there.