Pho hong, a must-try dish in Bac Ha

I’ve known about pho hong (pink pho) in the northwestern province of Lao Cai’s Bac Ha Town for a long time but only recently got a chance to try it.

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I entered a pho shop named Ly Thi on Na Co Street of Bac Ha Town packed with customers too busy enjoying their pho to notice a stranger like me coming in.

Pho hong, a must-try dish in Bac Ha
An aromatic bowl of Bac Ha’s pho hong (pink noodles). — Photo sapalaocai.com

I asked the shop owner for a bowl of pho and five minutes later, a server brought me a hot bowl of pho which was so attractive due to its colours, with pink noodles, red chilli, green fresh onion, yellow chicken skin and white chicken meat. 

Despite the cold outside, I felt much warmer after my first spoonfuls of the sweet broth, with the fragrant and soft chicken and noodles.

The shop seller said the chickens live free-range on hilly land so the meat is softer while the speciality pink rice, locally known as Ma Tra rice, used to make the noodles is planted on high mountains so it has a special fragrance.

Pho hong, a must-try dish in Bac Ha
Pho hong chua (sour) in Bac Ha is also a favourite dish of local people. — Photo sapalaocai.com

“We produce these materials by ourselves to ensure our pho quality, which was handed down from my grandmother to me,” Thi said, adding that each day she uses 60-70kg of rice to produce the noodles.

She told me that apart from pho hong, they sell pho chua (sour) and pho tron (mixed).

Pho hong, a must-try dish in Bac Ha
Pho hong is made of special rice variety grown in high mountain. — Photo webtretho.com

Pho chua includes hot noodles, char siu pork, fresh herbs, đậu xị (fermented soybean), roasted peanuts and sour water.

Asked about how to make sour water, Thi said she mixes mustard greens with sugar and ferments for it for three days to get the sour water.

 
Pho hong, a must-try dish in Bac Ha
Mong ethnic people are enjoying their bowl of pho hong, pho chua and pho tron. — Photo sapalaocai.com 

Making đậu xị is also complicated. First one has to roast the soybeans and stew them until they become soft and ferment the mixture on the kitchen’s smoking shelf for several days then mix it with ingredients collected from the forest such as menghundor seeds, black cardamom, ginger, fried chilli, and chilli juice.

Many people prefer pho tron without using sour water but with char siu and grilled pork which is cooked from Bac Ha wild black pigs, said Thi.

She said the pigs are raised wild in the forest, so their meat is much more lean and less fatty than others.

I was lucky to enjoy all these pho specialities during my three-day trip to Bac Ha.

Thi said thanks to tourism development, the dishes have become specialities and enjoyed by local and foreign tourists.

Last week I returned to my home in the capital. I pedalled to a luxury pho shop downtown. To my surprise, I didn’t enjoy it. Had I lost my appetite? No. I realised that I missed the aromatic flavour of Bac Ha pink pho in simpler shops.

I told myself that I would plan another trip to Bac Ha soon to enjoy more phở hồng.  VNS

Nguyen Thanh Ha

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