We trekked for what felt like kilometres, up hill and down dale and along Yio Chu Kang Road and Serangoon Viaduct to make for civilisation... well, Serangoon NEX, anyway. We wandered about the shopping centre, bellies grumbling at our lack of ideas. A friend had told tales to my companion of a fine Chinese hotpot place at NEX – unable to locate said legendary establishment at first sight, my companion left me to wait while she went off to find it.
This was when our luck turned: she had left me to stand and wait outside So Phở, a Vietnamese place that had recently opened at NEX. When we discovered that the hotpot place had closed down, we went for So Phở as our third choice: and this was a classic case of third time lucky…
Anyway, So Phở probably isn’t the place for a long, leisurely meal where you catch up with old friends: it has the slight cafeteria atmosphere that you get in many restaurants in Singapore, and it also has the common ‘Chinese-restaurant-way-of-ordering’ where you tick a sheet of paper for all the items you want to order. But the system works well, and the service was attentive and efficient (I had the distinct impression that the staff were not locals). The prices will not break the bank either.
- Chạo tôm – minced shrimp on a sugar cane stick. This is one of those foods - along with xiao long bao, Chicken Kiev, cloudy apple juice and German wheat-beer - that I could sit and consume continuously for hours on end until something important ruptures internally. It’s probably difficult for any Vietnamese restaurant to get this one wrong, in fairness, but these ones were just delicious.
But - Holy Basil, Batman! - it’s the bánh tráng, the rice paper wrapper, that I really have problems with. This isn’t a comment on So Phở: I remember having the same issue when I ate nem cuốn in Vietnam proper. The thing is, there is something about the way the rice paper is made that makes it pretty much molar-, knife- and no doubt intercontinental ballistic missile-proof. Where is Richard Kiel when you need him? Its tensile strength is such that I think DuPont should blend it with Kevlar to make the ultimate body-armour. In fact, I am tempted to patent that immediately… Anyway, the point is, ceaseless mastication must have done wonders for toning my pterygoids and masseters, but sadly nobody looks at those particular muscles when you’re stripped off at the beach.
- The third appetiser involved crispy spring rolls, with chicken (NB: not pork) and vegetables. And what was it that elevated these common spring rolls to the upper echelons of spring-rolldom? Cinnamon. I knew that in East Asia and the Middle East, cinnamon is quite widely used as a spice for meat (instead of using it for desserts or with sugar, as it is in the West or in Mexico, say), but had never actually tasted the combination. That was a deeply pleasurable surprise: cinnamon is another favourite of mine.
No need to dwell too much on the phở, I think, except to say that it was as tasty as anything I have had in Vietnam – the beef was tender and nicely marbled, giving the soup a pleasant flavour, and the portion was hearty.
As for the fish, another palpable hit. I’m not a massive noodle fan at the best of times, if I am honest, and as for rice vermicelli… well, I can take them or leave them, as they tend to be very bland and remarkably filling. But the fish was just my kind of thing: it had the grilled flavour, it had the attractive yellow curry powder and turmeric blush, it had peanuts, it had onions, it was boneless. It was terrific.
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.548056878624762.1073741833.443654622398322& - So Phở’s Facebook page.
http://midas400.blogspot.sg/2014/02/dinner-at-so-pho-nex.html - another happy customer. Just posting their link here as it has lots of nice photos. Can’t agree with the comment about allegedly overpowering basil flavours, though!
http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00038159/ - CRASSULA pot plant from IKEA (money tree) – in case you want to kit out your home like a Vietnamese restaurant
http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/26472200/ - ROTERA tea-light lantern – ditto!
If you agree or disagree with what I said, why not leave a comment? It would be great to hear from you!
Further image and photo credits to Mike Bryant: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/mikebryant