Pho Hue street bread – An unforgettable taste of Hanoi

Friday, 2018-09-14 17:04:19
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Pho Hue's bread has a truly memorable flavour. (Photo: Minh Le)
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NDO – I am originally from the rural countryside but have lived in the urban area for almost ten years. One day I was nearly arguing with my friend, who is Hanoian, when they parked their car on Pho Hue Street, opposite Dai Nam theatre, and told me to buy some bread.

It was strange as in the middle of a hot day, even a meal with tasty crab soup may not console you, who else wants to buy bread, also you have wait at the end of a long line of people queuing up for the bread. But it was worth waiting as everything had its own reason.

It is a long-standing restaurant. From the cabinets and the trays for bread and ingredients, to the wooden chair for the female shop owner, all is small. My friend said that for many years, the restaurant has remained the same, with the same owner and crowded customers quietly lining up.

The lady finished slicing the bread and filling it with other ingredients then turned the bread to her guests. They comfortably walked to the glass cabinet with two trays of salt and chili sauce to fill the bread for the final stage. Occasionally, the shop owner called inside: "Give me more pâté" or "Add a little sausage," immediately a family member would bring the ingredients out.

At first glance, the bakery is nothing special. Still the thin crust of the bread, crispy outside but soft inside, placed next to the square of pâté covered by a thin layer of fat on the surface that is always cut neatly by clean hands. However, because of waiting so long, anyone would recognise that both customers and the owner are taciturn but elegant. They seem to know each other and understand each other’s needs.

The bread here does not come in lots of different styles or get filled with vegetables, pickles and sauces but is always neatly wrapped with slices of meat, sausage and a thin layer of pate, combined with flavoursome butter spread deep inside the soft and moist white bread.

The sauce is also very strange. The spice is not fussy or eye-catching but very subtle, gentle and familiar. Guests who have never enjoyed the bread here or clumsy guys must have trouble when gently handling the small spoon to sprinkle the spice on their bread. Remember that only using a little sauce; firstly sousing the chili salt, then the sauce, into two thin stripes along the bread. Not only in other regions, but also right in Hanoi, Pho Hue bread is different from that of the other streets.

My friend told me about the memory of the past after the liberation of the capital city. Bread with ingredients inside was a luxury gift at that time, when all the materials and foodstuffs were rare and distributed through coupons. The bakery that I was nearly sulkily lined up outside of had been present from that day. My friend also followed the adults to the street to queue up; the innocent eyes looked with desire at the luxury childhood gift. From that time until now, there have been long queues waiting for bread all day long.

Sometimes, I miss the taste of Pho Hue bread. Just like people waiting in a long queue, like the host who does not want to expand the scale or advertise the brand but still doing familiar work for years, my deep-rooted nostalgia gradually becomes familiar.