Sydney’s Best Pho

Sydney’s Best Pho

We work hard and smart at IDENTITY multicultural marketing agency, but there’s always time for food! IDENTITY’s Thang Ngo writes about the best pho in Sydney for Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food.

Sydney loves a food trend. We adore tucking into the must-eat dish, snack or ingredient of the moment. But there are some food addictions that span years, even decades, that never find themselves at the bottom of the thumbs-down list. They are part of the dining pulse of this town. One of these addictions is pho.

Pho

Pho is up there with the great noodle soups of the world, says Merivale chef Dan Hong. “The spices within the clean and clear broth have almost healing properties, and it makes you feel great when eating it.”

Hong says pho can be slurped any time. One of his earliest memories was of his mother, Angie Hong, making “a large batch, and we would eat it for breakfast or dinner for at least the next two days until it was gone”. He adds: “It’s also the perfect hangover cure.”

The complex broth is derived from boiling beef bones for hours. The meat topping is almost always beef – pho tai (uncooked thin slices of beef), pho nam (cooked beef), pho bo vien (beef balls).

There are other varieties. Pho ga (chicken) is tolerated, but purists will grimace at pho do bien (seafood) and pho chay (vegetarian).

With so many ingredients and regional differences, each chef has their own, closely guarded recipe. Sweet, star anise-perfumed, fish sauce-rich, ginger-spiced – each bowl is as distinct as the hands that create it.

Pho has a somewhat murky history, though most agree it originated in the north of Vietnam in the 1880s during the French colonisation. The Chinese living in the north contributed the rice noodle component of the soup, while the French introduced beef, a previously extravagant meat, to this street food bowl.

Chef Luke Nguyen had his first pho at about four years of age; his parents used it to teach him how to use chopsticks. Researching for his latest TV series, Luke Nguyen’s France, he concluded that pho actually has it origins in France. According to Nguyen, pho bears similarities to the French classic pot-au-feu in name and cooking method. “The essential cooking technique of both dishes is the same – to extract all the natural sweet flavours of the beef bones, meat and vegetables to get a very clean, aromatic, tasty broth.”

Sydney's Best Pho

In 1954, when Vietnam was split into communist north and democratic south, those who migrated south to avoid communism helped spread the love of pho. Pho bac (northern pho) reflects the austere, considered character of that region, while pho nam (southern pho) embodies the brashness of the easy-going south.

“Northern pho tends towards subtle, light, mild, clean flavours; the south tends towards a sweeter yet sharper flavour from exotic fresh herbs, aromatic spices with Indian, Cambodian and Thai influences,” Nguyen says.

With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, pho spread, thanks to Vietnamese refugees, to the West, where the pho flavour evolved further. Many claim pho in Australia is tastier thanks to better-quality beef that gives the broth a bigger, richer punch.

Whether north, south or Aussie, watch out ramen, laksa and handmade noodles – pho is coming for you.

Sydney’s best pho

Pho Tau Bay
12/117 John Street, Cabramatta, 9726 4583

Critics and connoisseurs consistently name this tiny noodle house as one of Sydney’s best. Cabramatta’s first pho restaurant began in 1980 as a Sunday pop-up in Thi Nhu Pham’s garage. With an infant son, it was the only way to make money to support her husband and the rest of her children back in Vietnam. Within two years she saved enough capital to open Pho Tau Bay at the current location. Pham’s recipe is a well-guarded secret; no one knows how she gets that amazing depth of flavour or how she balances sweet, saltiness and Asian spices so perfectly.

Pho An
29 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown, 9796 7826

Dan Hong’s favourite pho, this institution attracts punters from all over Sydney. Enter this vast, double-fronted restaurant and you’ll be greeted by the aroma of basil leaves and the sound of happy, slurping diners.

Pho An is renowned for its seductive, aromatic broth with star anise, clove and Chinese cardamom that many have unsuccessfully tried to emulate.

PHD
308 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 9559 5078

Previously Pho Bac Hai Duong, but shortened to PHD after a bold makeover. Hien Le is front of house, while wife Lanh Nguyen cooks up a storm in the kitchen. The owners come from Hue, so while they serve pho nam (southern-style), it has a central Vietnam twist. This is one of the sweetest pho in Sydney, with generous use of beef and chicken bones, onions, ginger and fried garlic. It’s finished with cracked pepper – another marked difference.

Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam
Level 3, Market City, 8-9 Hay Street, Haymarket, 8252 7815

Don’t be fooled by its location; one of the best pho stops in Sydney’s CBD is in a food court. For two decades, owner Phuoc Hoang has run restaurants all over Sydney, including Darlinghurst, Bankstown and Canley Heights. These days he’s in a food court to escape the punishing restaurant hours. It’s a punchy umami-rich broth that makes the nearby competitors taste watered-down. At $9 a bowl, the food court price is a sweet bonus.

Cafe Buon Cibo
33 Herbert Street, St Leonards (no phone)

A sweeping generalisation, but the further away from the Vietnamese hubs of Cabramatta, Bankstown and Marrickville, the harder it is to find decent pho. This cafe-cum-pho eatery on the ground floor of an office block in St Leonards is a redolent exception. The owners, Allan Thai and his mother, cook the broth overnight in their home in Cabramatta and drive the 70-litre pho pot to the north shore each weekday.

Each bowl is served with pride, piping-hot, including all the condiments you’d expect from a Cabramatta restaurant.

Pho Huong Xua
Shop 4, 219 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights, 8764 4117

One of a few places in Sydney for subtle, elegant pho bac (northern-style). While the broth is clean, the beef is lightly stir-fried with fish sauce and garlic.

They’re also renowned for Australia’s biggest pho bowl, which weighs in at 1.5 kilograms, with equal parts of noodles, beef and soup. At $17 it’s also the best-value bowl in town (but eat it all in 11 minutes and it’s free!).

Great Aunty Three
115 Enmore Road, Enmore, 9519 2886

Just off King Street, look for the red Vespa, bright plastic stools and long queues. This is hipster pho with a solid pedigree – the recipe is passed on from owner Michael Le’s maternal grandmother. It’s a fragrant bowl, thanks to basil and star anise. While you’re there, go the whole hog and order a gourmet banh mi, fresh roll and a glass of Vietnamese drip coffee.

Hai Au
48 Canley Vale Road, Canley Vale, 9724 9156

This place is one of the most popular restaurants for the local Vietnamese community, renowned for in-your-face, authentic home-style Viet.

And if chicken is your thing, then pho ga at Hai Au is the best in town. It is a complex broth, umami-rich and highly spiced with basil, chopped coriander, spring onion and fried garlic, though it is the sliced Spanish onions that give the bowl a distinctive sweetness.

Duy Linh (now closed)
Shop 10, 117 John Street (Enter via Hill Street), Cabramatta, 9727 9800

Vegans rejoice – here’s is a pho for you. It’s a sweet broth with a surprisingly firm punch. Mercifully, there’s no mock-beef, though two types of mushrooms add earthy heartiness. Basil, coriander and ginger help to evoke the pho feel.

Pho Pasteur
295 Chapel Road, Bankstown, 9790 2900; 709 George Street, Sydney, 9212 5622; 137 Church Street, Parramatta, 9635 0782; Westpoint Shopping Centre, Patrick Street, Blacktown, 9676 1333.

Pasteur was the first to take pho outside the Vietnamese hubs, spreading the love to Haymarket, Parramatta and Blacktown. It’s an accessible broth, hedging its bet – neither too sweet nor too salty.

How to eat Pho

A steaming bowl of pho at your table is just the start – what you add to it will really make the experience. After all, no two bowls are alike.

Dunk: Pho tai (raw beef) arrives with thinly sliced red beef on top of your bowl. Grab your chopsticks and immediately submerge into the piping-hot broth to cook. This applies to pho nam (cooked beef) or other meats such as pho ga (chicken), to bring your meat to the same temperature as your pho bowl.

Sides: That plate of side mints can really help to lift your bowl.

Fresh is best: You may be offered lightly blanched bean sprouts. This practice originates from Vietnam. In Australia, pick fresh sprouts for a crispier, more lively texture. You get a lot of sprouts on the plate, but one handful is usually enough – too much will prematurely cool the broth.

Rip it: Asian basil is another standard side (flee out of there if it’s not). You should get a few stems. Only use the leaves; discard the wiry stems. Tear the basil leaves in two before dropping into your bowl to release the flavour into the broth. This one tip can make a world of difference.

Zest: Lemon should be squeezed to taste – usually no more than one slice per bowl.

Condiments: That cluster of inscrutable condiments taking up valuable room on your table should be loved, not loathed:

F is good: Sometimes sauces are transferred to generic glass containers, but there’s a simple guide. Usually, there are two containers with dark, runny sauces; the one marked with a handwritten “F” is fish sauce (add half a tablespoon for extra saltiness), the one marked with “S” is soy (to be used for other dishes – avoid if you’re having pho).

Squeeze it: The black paste in the squeeze container is hoisin. Some add it to their bowl instead of fish sauce, but most squeeze onto one side of a small side dish to dip your meat in. The red squeeze container is chilli sauce, to be added to the other half of the dipping dish for a yin-yang look.

Spice it up: Finally, if your side dish doesn’t come with chilli, look for a small aluminium sugar container – it usually contains freshly sliced chilli. Three slices should warm you up, six if you’re brave.

Free tea: Unlike some Chinatown restaurants, bottomless tea is free. The waiter usually brings enough tea cups for your table. Help yourself to hot oolong from the large thermos on your table.

Sydney’s Best Pho by Thang Ngo was originally published as a cover story for Good Food, photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food. Photo credit Edwina Pickles.

Top 10 Countries of Birth in Australia, 2016

Top 10 Countries of Birth in Australia, 2016

The main Australian Census data is scheduled to be released on 27 June. We couldn’t wait that long. Here’s our prediction…

This month the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released a teaser to last year’s Census – the ‘typical’ Australian at a national and state/territory level. That has only whet Australia’s appetite for more information. If you can’t wait until the major release in June, we’ve gotten together with sister agency, Cadreon to forecast some key population figures.

Last week, we released our forecast of the Top 10 Languages Spoken in Australia. Lots of great reactions from the community. Thanks for your feedback on social and LinkedIn.

You wanted more.

So we collaborated once more with sister agency, Cadreon to forecast the top 10 countries of birth as at the 2016 Census. Cadreon is a leading data and analytics agency with the expertise to build forecast models. IDENTITY Communications, as a leading multicultural marketing agency, brings community expertise. We’ve combined our forecasts of the top 10 languages spoken in Australia and the top 10 countries of birth in a new infographic, below.

Top 10 Countries of Birth Australia Infographic

The key takeouts?

  • While the total Australian population is forecast to increase by 11% since the 2011 Census, Mandarin speakers have increased by 77%, Filipino/Tagalog by 97%, people born in China by 90%, India born by 81%, USA by 103%
  • 70% of Australia’s population growth since the 2011 Census come from migration compared to natural growth contribution of 30%
  • The Philippines is forecast to be the fifth largest migrant country of birth
  • The maps say it all, migration from China and India are major contributors to our population growth

Top 5 languages in Australia

About our forecast model

We started with the 2011 Census and added net monthly long term arrival figures from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the months between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses. Monthly data provides a richer data set and also reflects seasonality. We also factored in the birth and death rates. It might sound easy, but I’ve seen Cadreon’s forecast model, lift up the hood and it’s mighty complicated!

How close we’ll get, we’ll find out as 2016 Census data is progressively released.

I’m proud to say that the forecast team is as multicultural as the data set; the model was built by clever Cadreon peeps from Italian and Greek backgrounds, the data came from our team made up of Australians from Chinese, Chinese-Indonesian and Vietnamese backgrounds. You couldn’t get more multicultural and collaborative than that!

Find out more…

Got questions? Want to know more about this model and other intelligent IDENTITY tools? Interested in communicating with Australia’s growing diverse consumers? Contact us.

Top 10 Languages in Australia, 2016

Top 10 Languages in Australia, 2016

Ahead of Tuesday’s 2016 Census stage one release, Cadreon and IDENTITY Communications have collaborated to predict Australia’s total population and the top 10 languages, other than English, spoken in the country. How close will we get to #Census2016 figures?

The industry has been hanging out for the release of the 2016 Census.  The last one was in 2011 and multicultural marketing agencies have been relying on data that is five years old.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the 2016 Census will be released in three stages:

  • April 11: A preview of results and giving insight into what makes the ‘typical’ Australian at the national and state/territory level.
  • June 27: This comprehensive dataset will include national, state/territory and capital city data for selected key person, family and dwelling characteristics, including age, sex, religion, language and income.
  • October: Detailed Census data on employment, qualifications and population mobility (journey to work and previous address).

We know Australia’s diversity has changed dramatically between the last two Censuses. Rather than waiting, we partnered with IPG Mediabrands sister agency, Cadreon to forecast the total Australian population and the top 10 languages, other than English, spoken in Australia. Cadreon is a leading data and analytics agency with the expertise to build forecast models. IDENTITY brings multicultural community expertise.

The result is shown in the infographic below, which illustrates the changing face of Australia.

IDENTITY Top 10 languages spoken in Australia

The 2016 Forecast

RankLanguage2001200620112016
1Mandarin139286220604336410594597
2Cantonese225307244560263673383307
3Arabic209372243662287174375639
4Italian353605316894299833325985
5Vietnamese174236194854233390301460
6Greek263717252227252217262587
7Hindi4781770007111351174939
8Tagalog788789232881457160388
9Spanish9359398002117499140408
10Korean39529546247978795084

The key takeouts?

  • Over 1 million people in Australia speak Chinese, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Wu, Min Nan and others.
  • Mandarin and Cantonese are the top 2 languages, other than English spoken in Australia.
  • Italian drops from 2nd to 4th most spoken language, Greek from 5th to 6th, reflecting the ageing population of post war European migrants and the relative decline in migration from this region.
  • Filipino/Tagalog is the fastest growing of the top 10 language groups in Australia, growing by 97%.
  • Korea comes into the top 10 for the first time

We’ve used the new forecast to update our recent infographic about the Chinese community in Australia below.

IDENTITY Chinese infographic APRIL 2017

About our forecast model

We started with the 2011 Census and added net monthly long term arrival figures from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the months between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses. Monthly data provides a richer data set and also reflects seasonality. We also factored in the birth and death rates. It might sound easy, but I’ve seen Cadreon’s forecast model, lift up the hood and it’s mighty complicated!

How close we’ll get, we’ll find out as 2016 Census data is progressively released.

But I’ve gotta say, we had a lot of fun and the forecast team is as multicultural as the data set; the model was built by clever Cadreon peeps from Italian and Greek backgrounds, the data came from our team made up of Australians from Chinese, Chinese-Indonesian and Vietnamese backgrounds. You couldn’t get more multicultural and collaborative than that!

Find out more…

Got questions? Want to know more about this model and other intelligent IDENTITY tools? Interested in communicating with Australia’s growing diverse consumers? Contact us.

NB: Updated forecasts with revised figures on 19 April 2017.