Review: Pham Thi Chinh in Wangsimni
The flavours of Vietnam aren’t that easy to replicate here – beef bones for stock are tricky to source, and ingredients like Vietnamese herbs and limes are either hard to find or prohibitively pricey. Korean pho chains abound, but with few exceptions they are insipid and disappointing. But with a growing Vietnamese community here, there are a few places where one can find a legit bowl of pho (phở is apparently the proper spelling), the spicy-sour beef noodle soup that you find everywhere in Vietnam and dream of for months after you leave.
Foremost among these is a restaurant which is a little out of the way, a well-kept secret that was new to me until this week and which is now my first choice for this excellent soup. It’s called Pham Thi Chinh and it involves getting on the subway to Wangsimni. (Directions are at the bottom of this post.)
There are two Vietnamese places in the same building complex, oddly enough. This is the superior of the two. (The other is Quân An Asean and you can read my review of it here.) It looks like any small Korean diner or kimbap place, but on any given day, a goodly number of the customers are Vietnamese, albeit there appears to be a healthy collection of Korean regulars as well.
The menu is simple but has a few different options (there’s also a photo menu on the back if you don’t read hangeul or, um, Vietnamese). The pho is served with cilantro, bean sprouts and chopped red chilli on the side. Be careful with the latter – these are not the harmless Korean chillis but fiery little buggers that you should add in moderation. There’s also the usual sriracha-style chilli sauce, the brown sauce whose name I forget, and some little squeezy bottles of lime juice to add to taste.
The pho was good, very good. I was told they make the broth the proper way, without loads of MSG and flavour packets which are common shortcuts elsewhere. I can believe it; it was satisfying and hearty, and due to the fact I emptied the whole side dish of chopped chillis into my soup, I was sweating with an intensity that belied the chilly temperatures outside. 7,000 for a goodly-sized bowl, and there’s also a fuck-off big bowl for 10,000 won.
As well as the soup, I also ordered something called chả giò, which are little spring rolls filled with minced pork (amusingly referred to as “mandu” on the Korean menu). With a little sweet chilli dip, these were really great – not too greasy, not too crumbly, just right. I could have eaten two platefuls of these on their own, though it probably wouldn’t be good for my ever-expanding waistline. Just 5,000 won, I’ll definitely have these again next time.
I ended with an iced coffee (cà phê đá). Goddamn, this was good – it took me right back to sitting on the sidewalk in Hanoi, mopeds flashing past my chair, trying to cool down in the evening heat. Caramelly, sweet and strong, this is the drink a Starbucks macchiato wishes that it could be when it grows up – and, at 3,000 won, not much more than half the price, too.
Overall, I’ll certainly be back to try the other items on the menu, with the possible exception of the Hanoi Vodka, which looked a bit lethal. It’s a bit of a trek to Wangsimni, but I’ll go a long way for a good bowl of pho, and this is the best I’ve found in Seoul by far. If you happen to be in the market for something similar, check it out – I don’t think it’ll disappoint you.
- Category: Vietnamese
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Phở bo
- Hours: 11-9pm seven days a week, though possibly with a mid-afternoon break, depending.
- Subway: Wangsimni Station (왕십리역) exit 2.
- Directions: Come out of Wangsimni Station exit 2 and walk along the road for three or four minutes until you reach the petrol station (below), then turn left.
- At the top of the small road, on the right, is an apartment block. As you keep walking, with the apartment building on your right, Pham Thi Chinh is at the end of the little row of shops along the ground floor, to the left of the apartments’ main entrance.
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