What is the point of swallowing the last 10 years of Hanoi food writing from U.S. magazines, visiting said city for a holiday-come-assignment, talking to the self same people you've read about in those U.S. magazines and spewing 2,129 words of uninspired, unoriginal, factually inaccurate, poop out the orifice of an American printing press at the other end? I dunno, but maybe the editors at The Smithsonian can tell us.
Let's look at the title of food writer Mimi Sheraton's article first – Searching for Hanoi's Ultimate Pho. Hmmm… couple of things here:
- If you're searching for a superlative, you'll need time and local knowledge. Mimi seems to spend most of her time – and I'm guessing she had a max of one or two weeks in country – with various members of the New York Philharmonic, the U.S. Ambassador, his missus and (stifle yawn) Didier Corlou – yes, we know Didier is French, has a Vietnamese wife, runs a posh restaurant in Hanoi (that no Hanoian Pho seller will ever set foot in) and has featured in every single page tearingly dull article ever written by a tay on Hanoi food. Enuff of Didier already.
Which brings us to point number two:
- Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million, ALL of whom have an opinion on food. So, here's an idea – admittedly this may be a tad radical for your parachuted in food writer – but why not try and speak to some of them? They don't bite – unless they're eating… You spoke to one – a violinist in the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra. Think you might need more than one Vietnamese opinion, and less foreign nonsense, if you're in search of the Ultimate Pho.
Next up, focus on the job in hand:
If you're writing an article about Pho – sorry, a search for the Ultimate Pho – why would you ever want to step inside the Sofitel hotel, let alone try the Pho you found there? Why? Even the biggest food idiot in Hanoi would never, ever, in a million and one lunar new years, send you to the Sofitel for… Pho. OK, so maybe you want to compare the "flash" with the "street", but don't drown your feature in highfallutin, nambypamby eateries that pay the merest nod to the down and dirty Pho.
Open you eyes and get your facts right. Lines like this make me wonder how seriously you take your job,
Between dodging motorbikes and cars that streamed unimpeded by stoplights—an amenity missing from the burgeoning capital link
As Our Man in Hanoi mentioned, after bringing this article to my attention,
Why do travel writers and bloggers keep saying there are no traffic lights in Hanoi – they're everywhere. link
Even back in the day, they were there. OK – so a lot of folk ignored them, probably still do – But, I can confirm that Hanoi has had some traffic lights, even a lot of them, since at least 1996. Has there been another revolution? Did they all get trashed? Did I miss sommit?
This next gripe has me a little confused.
Justin Mott's fabulous photo of Chuyen Bo, shown below looks like a pretty sophisticated Pho stall, with a number of cuts of meat, fresh Pho noodles and chopped spring onion. However, the text mentions tofu, crispy noodles, blood, "eight kinds of greens" etc. All of which are no-no's in Pho, especially in Hanoi where Pho comes sans herbs. I think you are describing somewhere else. Also, these things don't seem to appear in the picture,
Our destination was Chuyen Bo, a pho stall with stools so low that
Honna had to pile three atop one another for me to sit on. The choice
of ingredients was staggering: not only eight kinds of greens, tofu,
soft or crisp noodles, but also various cuts of beef—oxtail, brisket,
shoulder, kidneys, stomach, tripe, lungs, brains—plus cooked blood that
resembled blocks of chocolate pudding, a pale pink meat described to me
as “cow’s breast” (finally decoded as “udder”) and a rather dry,
sinewy-looking meat that one of the workers, pointing to his groin,
said was “from a man.” I was relieved to learn that the ingredient in
question was a bull’s penis. I opted instead for a delicious if
conventional pho of oxtail and brisket. But later I worried that I had
missed an opportunity. Perhaps udder and penis pho might have made a
more stirring, not to mention memorable, finale to my quest. Maybe next
time. Pho better or pho worse.
Lastly, why didn't you just take my advice?
Go to Saigon. Hanoi Pho is a load of crap. But, if you must… I know where the Ultimate Pho is in Hanoi. It's in a scummy shack at 13 Lo Duc street. Sticky Rice and Our Man in Hanoi might disagree with me, but I know I am right and they are wrong. See below…. arrhhh, the memories…