The Ultimate Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) ~ Lost in the lanes of Vietnam

Xin chào các bạn 🙂

Juicy succulent chicken pieces simmered in an aromatic broth served over rice noodles with an assortment of fresh herbs and condiments- the mighty phở (pronounced Fuh) is probably the most famous food export of Vietnam.

I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t enjoy a fragrant bowl of warm phở on a cold winter night like today in Toronto. Although beef phở is more widely known, the chicken version is equally delicious and packed with complex yet delicate flavours.

I have always been fascinated by Vietnam and its culture, history, people and food. Ever since I read about the Vietnam War in my younger days, visiting the country was on my bucket list. This desire got stoked further on hearing stories from my dear Vietnamese friend Minh (my classmate from university days in Kuala Lumpur).

While visiting Hanoi, one of my favourite activities was to explore the local eateries and enjoy a bowl of phở. Other delicacies like bánh mì (savoury sandwich) or bún chả  (meatballs) were also sumptuous, but it was the humble phở which resonated with me the most.

Vietnamese food is all about simplicity and minimal use of spices. The fresh herbs really stand out in making each dish flavourful- whether it’s bún thịt nướng (cold rice-vermicelli noodles with grilled meat) , fresh spring rolls or bún bò xào (noodle salad).

The street-side stalls are often packed in the mornings with people sitting on plastic stools enjoying a comforting bowl of phở before work.

Although phở might look really simple, it’s a work of art in a bowl. Phở teaches you balance. The zing from lime, the piquant fish sauce, freshness of herbs, spicy kick from the red chilies and sriracha, everything is adjusted in the right proportion to create the perfectly balanced umami rich dish 🙂

Before I share the ultimate recipe of mouthwatering chicken phở, here are some precious snippets from my Hanoi and Halong Bay trip two years ago.

Dreamy lanes
Ho Van Văn Miếu ~ Confucian history and culture intrigues me, so I had to visit this ancient university built in 1070 which is dedicated to Confucius. So serene and picturesque!
Local artisanal craftwork
The stunning Hoàn Kiếm lake at night
It’s a busy day at work!
The famous book street
Sunset at the majestic Halong Bay
The gorgeous sunset view
Ethereal beauty
Maison Centrale ~ the prison for the Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POW during the Vietnam War
The sacrifices will never be forgotten
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre ~ an evening to remember!
Sung Sot Cave ~ the biggest and most beautiful cave in Halong Bay
Such an enormous limestone structure!
Random roadside cafes ~ so Insta-worthy
Towering limestone pillars and gorgeous emerald waters- Halong Bay is breathtaking!
Room with a view at Alisa Premier Cruise
Fairy lights on winter nights at Ho Van-Văn Miếu
Vietnamese Women’s Museum ~ dedicated to heroic women for their contribution to Vietnamese history, politics and culture. The stories about women who made a mark in Vietnam War were particularly impressive.

Time for some food 😀

Fresh oysters and shrimp with onion sauce
Bánh Mì and phở
Fresh Grilled Fish
A local café
Spring Rolls and Fresh Salad
Best breakfast in Hanoi Meracus Hotel 2. Hundreds of great reviews made us choose this little gem 🙂
Traditional coffee
Some more phở

We all need a holiday after this Covid nightmare is over and hopefully we will all travel again soon. Till then keep planning and keep dreaming 🙂

Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) Recipe:

Ingredients (for 2 people):

Boiled rice noodles (for 2)

For the broth:

1 large onion, halved (unpeeled)

1 two-inch piece ginger (unpeeled)

1 large cinnamon stick

2 star anise

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

6 cloves

Few fresh coriander/ cilantro sprigs

3 tbsp fish sauce (you can add more if you like)

350-400g bone-in chicken

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

For the topping/ garnish (the quantities are according to my preference, you can adjust as per your taste):

3 tbsp crispy fried shallots (or onions)

1 sliced Thai red chilli

Few sprigs of fresh coriander/ cilantro

8-10 fresh Thai basil leaves (or normal basil leaves if you don’t have Thai basil)

2 tbsp lime juice (or lemon like I used)

2-3 tbsp chopped spring onions

2 tbsp bean sprouts

Sriracha sauce according to taste

Few important tips:

Always use bone-in chicken for maximum flavour.

Char the veggies welly well.

Remove scum from time to time gently.

Adjust the quantities of herbs and condiments according to your taste. There is no fixed rule.

Let the broth simmer for at least 1.5 hours or more. Don’t cover the lid completely. Initially partially covered, later on simmer uncovered.

Method:

Heat a deep bottomed pot and roast the onion and ginger face down on medium heat. Make sure you don’t peel them. Continue to turn them with a tong for even charring.

When they get slightly charred, add the cinnamon, star anise, fennel and coriander seeds. Dry roast them for some more time until the spices become fragrant and the onion and ginger pieces are nicely charred.

Take out the ginger and onion. Peel the outer skin of the onion and roughly chop in 3-4 pieces to release more flavour into the broth. Also chop the ginger into smaller size as shown below. Add them back in the pot.

Throw in the chicken pieces and add enough water in the pot to make a good broth for two. Add salt, sugar, fish sauce and coriander sprigs and let the broth simmer on low heat (partially covered) for at least 1.5 hours. The longer the better!

Scoop out the scum that rises to the surface with a ladle gently without disturbing the simmering broth, from time to time.

Make sure that every time you scoop out some scum, you dip the ladle into a bowl of clear water before scooping out again. This will ensure your broth doesn’t become cloudy.

Meanwhile prepare your rice noodles according to package instructions, but don’t cook it too far ahead in time as they tend to get sticky if left out for a long time.

Also prepare the crispy shallots by frying 3 finely chopped shallots on low-medium heat in a wok. Drain and keep aside on a paper towel.

After 1.5 hours, you will notice that the broth is mostly clear.

Now remove the chicken and let the broth continue to simmer. Once slightly cool, tear the chicken pieces with your hand roughly instead of chopping, for that rustic street-side feel.

Strain the broth and adjust the seasoning. Remember to keep the broth slightly on the saltier side because it will eventually get diluted when noodles are added.

Time to assemble the phở !

In a bowl, take some of the boiled rice noodles, top it up with chicken and some chopped spring onions. Add enough broth so that it covers almost the entire bowl.

Throw in basil leaves, coriander leaves, chopped Thai red chilies, fried shallots, bean sprouts, a generous squeeze of lime and a squirt of sriracha*.

*Adding sriracha in the phở is often debated because it was never really used traditionally. But eateries now serve dollops of sriracha and hoisin sauce on a small flat dish to be used to flavour the meat and herbs for the phở. I personally don’t mind a small squirt of the hot sauce in my pho as it brings out all the flavours beautifully and elevates the taste but you may skip using it. Just keep some with you on a small plate and use as you please.

Serve hot and enjoy!

The land of temple ruins, stunning beaches & delectable food: Cambodia, A photo blog

Cambodia was on my ‘must travel’ list for quite some time, so I finally flew there with some close friends couple of days back. In fact the locals said that the best time to visit is between Jan to March, the weather being quite pleasant then.

A land known for its ancient temples, stunning architecture, beach parties, amazing seafood & Khmer cuisine and of course simple innocent people, Cambodia should definitely be on the must see list for any travel enthusiast. The sheer variety on offer is impressive enough to spend few days soaking up the local culture.

I have some lovely memories captured in photographs and in today’s blog, I am going to let these pictures do all the talking.

Presenting a photo-blog (of sorts) of my visit to Cambodia:

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Tuk Tuk: the preferred mode of conveyance in Cambodia

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Central market, Siem Reap, selling local handicrafts

 

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From handmade jewelries to wooden home decor items & souvenirs

 

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Some beautiful armbands up for sale!

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Fresh & juicy prawns at the local market

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Wat Preah Prom Rath, Siem Reap

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Typical Cambodian handcrafted basketry on display, in front of our hotel Sekla Villa, Siem Reap

      Angkor Wat in its full glory!

The quintessential shots of Angkor Wat at sunrise..in one word Magical 🙂 You have to be at the site as early as 5am and take your ‘spot’ to get the best shot, but the amazing view is worth all the efforts of waking up early.

                                                                                      the ruins…

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Bayon Temple, Angkor: 4 faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara everywhere

 

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Stunning Artistry

I have become a huge fan of Khmer cuisine after sampling some of their lip-smacking dishes in my week long stay. I can now safely say that Cambodian food is my second most favourite after Indonesian cuisine. There are some similarities with Thai cuisine in their use of spices like lemongrass, shallots and galangal and also generous use of coconut milk in some of their dishes. Fish sauce is widely used in stir fries and soups but one can find a lot of contrasts in their flavours, from sweet to salty, sour and even bitter!

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Khmer Chicken Fried rice

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Fish cakes: The best I have ever had

Khmer Chicken Curry: light, bursting with flavours and juicy succulent chicken pieces

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Fish Lok Lak with Black Pepper Dipping Sauce: a stir fried chicken marinated with salt, sugar, pepper, soy sauce & other spices. The highlight of this dish is the fiery dipping sauce which complements the dish.

 

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Fish Amok: My favourite among all. This classic Cambodian dish is a concoction of coconut milk and Khmer spice paste resulting in a creamy, fragrant sauce. Traditionally it is steamed & cooked in banana leaves and served with rice.

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A thin runny gravy version of Fish Amok

 

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Golden Lions Circle, Sihanoukville: The iconic roundabout in the beach town

 

Otres Beach II, Sihanoukville: soft white sand, crystal clear water, very few people and constant gentle breeze makes this the best beach to relax in Sihanoukville.

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Scrumptious Sea-food platter from one of the shacks at Otres II

 

Koh Rong: A speedboat from the main pier of Serendipity beach took us to Koh Rong island (took us about 45-50 mins). The beach is stunning, clear water like Otres, which makes swimming a lot more fun, although it was pretty crowded. The island had a very laid-back vibe to it which I loved and I had the best fish amok at one of the shacks here. Just take a big towel and a book/ music along, lie down with a drink and all is bliss 🙂

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The Mr. & I

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You can see for yourself how clear the water is!

Just avoid Serendipity main pier. Its too crowded, dirty and locals constantly trying to sell things by almost breathing down your neck and not letting you eat/ drink peacefully.

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One of our favourite shacks in Sihanoukville

Don’t miss visiting Pub Street, Siem Reap to experience the vibrant night life. Its a long stretch of road teeming with restaurants and bars and people making merry. The food and drinks are very affordable and after a long day of sight seeing, this is where everyone wants to go to and unwind. My favourites were the Angkor What? Bar and Temple Club.

 

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A very unique concept of an open bar. Loud music playing on laptops behind the counter, some bar stools and a makeshift stall selling alcohol. Voila!

 

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Yummy fried ice-cream

 

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National Museum, Phnom Penh: To get a glimpse of the cultural history of Cambodia

 

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S21, Phnom Penh: The dusty old high school which was turned into a torture and execution center during the regime of Pol Pot

 

Okay Boutique Hotel: Our stay at Phnom Penh was made memorable thanks to this lovely hotel which was more like a beautiful palace with the majestic Mekong river as a backdrop. The interiors were spectacular, each corner was resplendent with gorgeous Cambodian craftmanship. The rooms were quite spacious, awesome breakfast buffet and great service. I would highly recommend this place to anybody looking for a hotel close to the city center in Phnom Penh.

Overall, had a very eventful trip in Cambodia and before I forget I must mention how lovely the local people were, especially in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. They were so full of warmth and affection and genuinely took interest in making our stay memorable.

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Till we meet again

 

Welcoming the Chinese New Year at Absolute Thai Hot Pot, Mid Valley, KL

Gong Xi Fa Cai 🙂 

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Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the most important festival for the Chinese community. KL simply comes alive during these few days, with every nook and corner of the city being lit up, sales and discounts at shops, food stalls everywhere, beautiful decorations at malls, lion dances and fireworks!

Yesterday was the beginning of a long holiday for S and we decided to spend the next couple of days with friends- watching movies, going for drives, potlucks etc., basically chilling without a care 😀 We were at the Mid Valley mall and I suggested S & a friend that we go to Absolute Thai Hot Pot for dinner and they readily agreed. It’s rare that the husband would say no to Thai food 😛

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Our visit to this branch was a first, though we’ve been to a couple of their other outlets. Located at level 2, Center Court, its décor was all black which surprisingly had a very calming effect. We took a table near the corner from where we had a clear view of the outside. Although the restaurant was inside a mall, it felt as if we were sitting at a roadside open café.

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The menu was fairly exhaustive. We didn’t opt for their hotpot menu which was quite tempting, but settled for their usual fare instead.

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The menu

I have a thing for Chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves. It can be quite tricky though. You have to cook it just right to get the perfect texture- crunchy from the outside and soft, juicy inside. A little overcooked and what you have is an inedible hard piece of chicken. However, Absolute Thai nailed it. It was so delicious that it made us even hungrier.

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Pandan Leaves Chicken

The service was quite fast. As the waiter was bringing the other dishes to our table, I noticed S was glued to his phone looking at the highlights of a soccer match. Boys and their toys! After my stern look, he quickly put down his phone and beamed with delight looking at the food on the table.

Unfortunately the Tom Yam Soup with Seafood and Meehoon was the first thing I tasted. Why unfortunate? Because it was one of the worst tom yam soups I’ve ever had. It was so sour that all other flavours were overpowered and I felt as if I was biting on a piece of raw tamarind. I would never recommend it to anyone.

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Tom Yam Soup with Seafood and Meehoon (red base)

That made me somewhat skeptical about the other dishes we ordered. But my presumption was wrong thankfully. The Red Curry Roasted Duck was lip-smacking. The flavours were balanced perfectly. The sweet and spice quotient was just right and it tasted fabulous with plain white rice. The duck was quite soft, unlike a few other places I have had before, where it was hard and chewy.

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Red Curry Roasted Duck

The Green Curry Chicken was nice, so no complaints there but it wasn’t remarkable. I have had much better ones at other Thai restaurants in KL. S was busy removing chunky pieces of eggplant from the curry 😀  Otherwise he seemed to have enjoyed it.

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Green Curry Chicken

The best was saved for last. The Garlic and Black Pepper Fried rice with Fresh Crab was in one word heavenly! The crab was really fresh which elevated the dish to another level. It was mildly spiced and very juicy. The rice was perfectly seasoned with crushed black pepper and overall it was the best dish of the day.

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Garlic and Black Pepper Fried rice with Fresh Crab

Address: Mid Valley Megamall, 1, Lingkaran Syed Putra, Mid Valley City, 58000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone: +60 3-2201 5308

Open: 10am – 10pm

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