I know you’re all chomping at the bit to see what I ate on my trip to Bulgaria, but that mountain of pictures is going to take some work before I can form some cohesive blog posts. In the meantime, I’m happy to announce that Nick and I have found a very decent Vietnamese place just up the street.
We’ve actually been meaning to try it for a while – the giant neon arrow proclaiming “Pho” attracted our attention a couple of months ago. The problem is that this place is surrounded by about a dozen other Vietnamese and/or Chinese and/or Thai restaurants, and the choice can be a little overwhelming. One evening we’re seduced by the lacquered ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant, another we get distracted by roast chickens and don’t even make it up to the mini Asiantown surrounding the Belleville Métro stop. Even the night we made up our minds to finally go get some Pho, we had to choose between the three Pho joints on the same corner! But the big flashing arrow did its job and we ended up at Dong Huong.
The moment we walked in the door, we knew we wouldn’t regret our decision. The place was packed, and about 90% of the diners had huge bowls of steaming hot Pho in front of them. Upon being seated in the second of three dining rooms, we ordered a couple of Vietnamese beers and began to peruse the menu. We decided to start with some pork imperial rolls (or nems, as they’re often called in France). They came out accompanied by a large pile of lettuce leaves, mint, bean sprouts, and sliced carrots. Two dipping sauces were served alongside: a sweet, hoisin-based sauce and a delicious vinegary lemongrass sauce.
Only after we had greedily wolfed down the crisp, hot rolls did we look around and notice that other diners were using the lettuce to wrap them up with the other garnishes before tucking in. Oops. Feeling ignorant and brutish, we sheepishly waited for our soup to arrive.
I had ordered the pho ga (universally poorly translated as “chicken noodle soup,” which technically describes it, but misses the point entirely), a longtime favorite of mine, and when it was set before me, I was not disappointed.
I was, in fact, delighted by the little hard-boiled quail egg floating in the soup and dove straight for it. The broth itself was delicious, redolent of chicken and herbs with just a hint of star anise. A few chili slices, a handful of basil, a squeeze of lime juice, and it was perfect. My only quibble is that I could tell the chicken had been cooked separately from the broth. It had the distinct flavor of roasted chicken and despite swimming in the soup, tasted a little dry. I prefer it when the chicken is thinly sliced and dunked into the boiling hot broth just before serving – I think it results in moister, fresher-tasting meat and a more harmonious overall dish.
Nick, feeling adventurous, ordered one of the specials posted on the wall. It was a non-pho soup made with shrimp and crab, touted as a “North Vietnamese specialty.” His curiosity was rewarded with a large bowl of seafood stew studded with big hunks of crabmeat.
It was rich and spicy – much heartier fare than you might expect from a country as sultry as Vietnam. (Although I’m the first to admit how little I know about regional Vietnamese cuisine.)
All in all, we were very pleased with our meal at Dong Huong. The Vietnamese beer wasn’t half-bad, either. We will definitely be returning, but not before we try at least one other Pho joint. If only we could decide which one…
Originally published on Croque-Camille.