Guests experience a $100 bowl of pho in Saigon

Coming to Ho Chi Minh City in September, Joshua Zukas chose to enjoy pho, but the bowl of pho was “50 times more expensive” than regular dishes.

Joshua Zukas, a reporter specializing in writing about Vietnam tourism for Insider, USA, had a trip to Ho Chi Minh City at the end of September. He found a restaurant hidden in Ton That Dam market, District 1, specializing in serving food. serving pho and pho variations. Joshua shared that this was the first time he heard of a place in Ho Chi Minh City that serves a bowl of pho that is “50 times more expensive” than regular pho. This dish is not available, Joshua must reserve a table and order before arriving. This restaurant specializing in pho dishes shares a home with the only restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City with a Michelin star, both run by chef Peter Cuong Franklin.

Before experiencing the dish, Joshua Zukas asked the question “whether expensive pho and variations of pho flavors are just tricks to attract customers or are they really the chef’s culinary creativity”.

A bowl of pho costs 100 USD at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.  Photo: Joshua
A bowl of pho costs 100 USD at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Joshua

The American male tourist came to the restaurant at 6:00 p.m., at this time the stalls outside the Ton That Dam market were still bustling. “Dodging motorbikes and vegetable and fish vendors, I entered the 6-storey house located in the middle of the market street. The restaurant is located deep in the building, contrasting with the wet market outside. Stepping through the door, I felt like being transported to another city,” Joshua recounted.

He described the scene of customers filling the seats inside as reminiscent of a restaurant scene in downtown London or New York. Had to go through 2 other restaurants in the building to get to the pho restaurant Joshua had made a reservation for. He said he is familiar with such a symbiotic business model in Ho Chi Minh City, but some foreign tourists coming to Vietnam for the first time may find it “strange and awkward”.

The American male tourist’s “journey” to experience a $100 bowl of pho started with a glass of mojito (a cocktail). He appeared “confused” when the staff served him drinks because he hadn’t ordered anything yet. The restaurant chef immediately explained that the $100 pho he had ordered was a meal for two people. Includes a bowl of pho, a pho cocktail, two molecular pho balls and a piece of air bread. Except for the bowl of pho, which is a “normal” dish, the other dishes in the meal are “strange” to Joshua.

Restaurant space specializing in pho dishes in Ton That Dam market, District 1. Photo: joshua

“Molecular pho balls”. Photo: Joshua

Pho flavored cocktail. Photo: Joshua

Restaurant space specializing in pho dishes in Ton That Dam market, District 1. Photo: joshua

The “main character” of the meal is a bowl of pho served in a deep stone bowl, the rich aroma from the broth spreads as soon as the dish is brought out. The $100 bowl of pho has six types of beef, beef marrow, beef balls and a separate portion of raw wagyu beef. Unlike a regular bowl of pho, the pho noodles in this $100 meal are kept separately. “The noodles are soft but not mushy,” Joshua commented. The set also includes a tray containing spices and a plate containing raw egg yolks.

Joshua was “impressed” with the accompanying spices and said that “these ingredients make the bowl of pho special”. The spice tray has chopped fresh chili, a slice of lime, hoisin sauce, chili sauce and truffle sauce. Like Southern-style pho bowls, the $100 pho dish is also served with bean sprouts, purple onions and herbs including basil, mint, coriander, cilantro, perilla and dill.

“Slowly enjoying the dish, I realized this experience is completely different from eating a regular bowl of pho. Despite breaking the rules of traditional pho, the dish still retains the core element of pho, which is the flavor of the broth. The dish seems to put diners on a different stage and create a memorable culinary experience,” Joshua shared.

He believes that the price of 100 USD for a meal of pho dishes is “not expensive”. Because in addition to the main bowl of pho, diners can also experience unique side dishes. According to Joshua’s experience, a dinner for two at many high-end restaurants in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City can cost up to 100 USD. Talking about the pho cocktail to open the meal, Joshua shared that this drink is unique from the name to the taste. The drink called “phojito” is mixed from the main ingredients that make up the cocktail, combining many herbs and spices to create an aroma like “drinking” a bowl of pho. The glass of water is decorated with burnt cinnamon sticks, dried star anise and fresh chili – familiar spices of pho.

The next unique dish is molecular pho, “all the flavors of pho packed into one piece with a jelly-like texture”. This “noodle ball” is placed on a soup spoon. When put in the mouth, the pho ball “breaks immediately and the flavor spreads throughout the mouth”. The other side dish is a hollow baguette, which Joshua describes as “more like a cracker than a piece of bread”. The cake is spread with lots of creamy pate and wrapped in wagyu beef.

Joshua’s pho experience meal costs 100 USD, equivalent to 2.4 million VND. He rated the dishes 4.5 on a 5-point scale. The male tourist commented that this meal was “suitable for special occasions”.

“The $100 pho is an interesting experience, but I probably won’t eat it again often. For everyday meals, I will prioritize the traditional pho version,” Joshua commented.

($1=24,000 VND)

 (According to Insider )