Bite-size Review: Quân An Asean in Wangsimni
Ever since I visited Vietnam five years ago, I’ve hankered after an authentic bowl of their finest creation, pho (or phở as apparently it should be written). This great beef soup is probably familiar to you, but (at the risk of being a Lonely Planet bore) it doesn’t taste the same outside of Vietnam, and there is certainly nothing in Seoul to rival the glorious versions I had in Hanoi and Saigon. Vietnamese-style chains were all the rage here a while ago, and there are still lots of Pho Meins, Pho Bays and even a What the Pho to be found in Korea, but they are, almost always, garbage, pale imitations of the real thing.
I used to be a big fan of Le Saigon in Gyeongnidan, but my last few visits there have been pretty meh and I fear the quality there has been compromised for the sake of the local palate. I’d also been told that there was good pho to be had out in Ansan, where many migrants from SE Asia live, but that seemed a bit of a trek even for a noted glutton like myself.
For some time, though, I had heard tell of a place in Wangsimni that served up huge steaming bowls of the authentic stuff from the bowels of an otherwise unremarkable food court. So when I found myself transferring subway lines at lunchtime it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
The restaurant really isn’t a restaurant; it’s a counter in the food court of an apartment block in the middle of nowhere. There was no doubting the authenticity of the enterprise, though; the menu has just a few items, all in Vietnamese, including my target for the day, a great-looking beef phở.
Within a couple of minutes, the lovely Vietnamese lady was ladling up a big-ass bowl of this stuff. She added spring onions, sliced white onion and some pepper and who knows what else. The clinching sign that I was no longer in chain-restaurant hell was the side-plate of accompaniments; not only some fiery red chillies far removed from the bland nonsense you get in Pho Bay, but a healthy pile of fresh herbs on the stem, twigs and all – coriander (itself quite rare in Korean “Vietnamese” restaurants) and something resembling mint that I couldn’t identify but threw in anyway. A squirt of two of brown sauce, Sriracha and lemon juice, and I was good to go.
The soup was a little sweeter than I had recalled it from my long-ago holiday, and it needed a generous hand with the chilli and the lemon to amp up the flavours. Since it was a swelteringly humid July day I went a little easy on the heat, and afterwards somewhat regretted it. On the other hand, the fresh herbs really lifted the taste and the noodles and beef were just right.
Overall, I enjoyed it and the somewhat grungy ambience only added to the feeling that you really could be, just for a moment, back in Hanoi sipping on a 30 cent beer. It wasn’t by any means amazing, and I’m not sure I’d make the trip especially… but if you are in the area or you have a craving for the real thing, this may be as close as you’ll get without heading out to Ansan – or Saigon.
Quân An Asean (once known as Little Vietnam I believe) is a little tricky to find, but that’s all part of the fun. Come out of Wangsimni Station exit 2 (a solid five minute schlep from the tracks before you get above ground) and walk along the road for four or five minutes until you reach a petrol station, like so.
Hang a left at the gas station and you will quickly see a Holly’s Coffee and, opposite it and to the right, the Centerville apartment and grandly titled “shopping mall”, which has perhaps seen better days.
If you don’t speak Vietnamese or Korean then just point to what you want. The ladies are very helpful and the service is swift. They have some great coffee, as you would expect, but don’t expect a fancy atmosphere – this is food court central.
- Category: Vietnamese
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: phở.
- Subway: Wangsimni (왕김니역) exit 2
- Directions: Come out of Wangsimni Station exit 2 and walk along the road for four or five minutes until you reach the petrol station, then turn left. Opposite the Holly’s Coffee is a small apartment block with some steps down to the right. The food court is down there on the left.
- Hours: Your guess is as good as mine, but I first tried to go there on a Monday and it was closed, so I’m going to say office hours Tuesday – Friday at the least, and maybe the weekend as well. But please don’t take my word for it.