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If you've ever found yourself in search of a bowl of Vietnamese pho noodle soup in an urban Chinatown, chances are, you probably didn't have an authentic meal. Often served with crisp spring rolls and sweet basil, pho is like the macaroni and cheese of Vietnamese cuisine - the ultimate comfort food - and there's no better place to get the dish than during a tour of Vietnam.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Asian food authority Tony Tan described what food is really like in Vietnam.
"The flavors are more direct and straightforward," he said. "Servings are also smaller and - the northerners claim - more elegant, perhaps due to several centuries of Chinese influence."
Beginning in the north, where pho originated, travelers on Vietnam tours can eat noodles for every meal and somehow manage not to get sick of them. Restaurants often make their own roasted onion and beef broth as well as rice noodles, which is considered an ancient trade that few people know how to do in the traditional way.
While you're eating at any number of restaurants (they're everywhere), don't forget to order cha ca, or fried fish with dill, as well as banh cuon, which are steamed soft rice flour rolls and a perfect complement to a bowl of steaming hot pho.
Not sure where to start? Pho Bo Hang Dong might be a hole-in-the-wall eatery, but locals consider it among the top three noodle restaurants in the city.
Ho Chi Minh City
At Pho Hung, one of the most popular restaurants in the city, locals and visitors pack the small dining room like sardines, but the food is worth getting close to your neighbor. Open from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day, Pho Hung offers everything you could ever want in a pho noodle dish, from the slippery rice noodles down to the very last pork dumpling and splash of peanut sauce. Most of the restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City have massive serving sizes, so you might want to share a bowl with your travel buddy.
"Southern food is sweeter and spicier than up north," Tan said. "The food is more artfully presented and heavily influenced by the neighbours, Thailand and Cambodia."
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(Bangkok, Chiang Mai)
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