Searching for the Secrets of Pho in Hanoi, Plus Pictures of the Food and People of Vietnam
In early August, Braden and Yasmin Wages took their first vacation since opening their restaurant, Malai, to spend five days in Hanoi, Vietnam, immersing themselves in the local food and culture.
"We really just wanted to refresh and expand our menu," said Braden. "We also wanted to re-center ourselves on pho. It's something we're passionate about we wanted to get back to traditional flavors."
The Wages didn't have a set itinerary other than to walk the streets of Hanoi and try various foods from street vendors. Braden explained that there aren't really a lot traditional restaurants in the city.
"There doesn't seem to be a lot of life inside buildings," Wages said. "Shops and restaurants pour out onto the street."
As they ate, they tried to break down the dishes, flavors and specific ingredients. They also took two cooking classes and spent a lot of time in the local markets trying different produce. As a result of the trip, they've made significant changes to their pho.
Beef pho in Hanoi
"It's better now," Braden said. "We had to adjust the timing. We had to learn how not to hold it too hot."
He explained that traditionally pho is cooked overnight, served in the morning, then within two hours is usually gone. Since it's not practical for Malai to be open just two hours a day, the challenge is to have pho ready to serve all day. If it's held too hot for too long, the flavors and base begin to break down.
Here they're eating in a small hallway because all the tables on the street were taken.
Based on what they had in Vietnam, they also added fresh noodles and a bread stick (similar to fried dough) to each bowl.
"We just watched what everyone else was doing," said Braden, "and they're all serving this bread with their pho."
They've also added five new dishes to their menu, which mostly run as daily specials, including a banana blossom salad; bun cha, which is a grilled minced pork dish; and a fried egg bahn mi.
Braden said he's inclined to stand on top of the building and scream to everyone that their pho is even better now and they have some amazing new dishes. But at this point, he really shouldn't have to twist our arm at all.
They shared with us some of their amazing photos of their trip...