Monday, March 28, 2011

Pho at Hien Vuong

In the course of my work I have come across a thing called "mindfulness meditation" which intrigued me.  I asked a friend what it meant and she said it is trying to focus on being in the moment.  All my life a chronic multitasker, cleaning the kitchen while listening to talkback, knitting furiously while watching TV, as I get older I find I am having some sort of sensory overload.  While the weekends used to have the soundtrack of PBS from morning til night, now they are a slapstick comedy of me shutting off the radio every time I walk past, while my husband and kids turn it back on.  Doing too many things at once makes me stressed out while I once thrived on it.  So perhaps I am tuning in to this form of meditation without really realising it.

The other element of mindfulness meditation is being very much sensorily aware of what you are doing - not just listening to birdsong and feeling the wind in your hair but also the feeling of the warm water and the soap on your hands when you are doing banal daily tasks.  This is somewhat hard to achieve when cleaning poo out of the carpet but I think being fully present in all five senses is a noble quest.  It's probably hardest when eating.  A boss once laughed at me, eating lunch while reading Epicure - "how much food can one person handle?" and indeed, giving up reading when eating is probably the hardest thing if you want to be fully present in experiencing your food.

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Vivienne wrote to me recently asking if I'd tried Hien Vuong's pho.  "I think their sliced beef and chicken pho is probably the best in Footscray," she said.  "The owners are really nice too, it's a family run business and there's usually a bunch of kids in there."  I had been lucky enough to try Hien Vuong's pho a while back and  had gone for my usual sliced beef so when the craving struck, I knew just where to head.

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Love this place - so old school.  Everything is sparkling clean in a houseproud way.  The owner comes over the minute you sit down in that classic Vietnamese restaurant way - it's because it's assumed you came here because you had a hankering for one specific thing, rather than wanting to browse the menu, which of course is okay too!  For vegies, there's hu tieu chay or Vietnamese vegetarian noodle soup.

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I am not very adventurous with pho - I have had a chicken pho just once and constantly refer to pho bo tai or sliced beef pho, where the wafer-thin raw beef slices cook almost instantly on contact with the hot broth.  True to Vivienne's rec though I opted for the mixed beef and chicken.  This was awesome - the beef perfectly sliced, tender and tasty, the chicken well-poached pieces of breast meat.  While some pho broths have a really marked undertone of whole spices, this broth was really aromatic with fresh herbs, scattered with onion and coriander.  Does anyone know if they mix the two broths for this mixed pho?  In any case, it was fantastic - the warmth and soothing nature of chicken broth combined perfectly with that clear, cleansing yet hearty beef broth.

Hunched over your bowl of pho, there really is no choice but to be in the moment.  It's impossible to wedge a book under the bowl and if you were able to, it would be splattered with stock in a second as you slurp up your noodles.  The steam in your face, you contemplate the noodles and the flavours and textures just jump round your mouth.  The sweat from the chillis begins to pour out and you get that tropical hot food feeling, outwardly hot but refreshed inside.  For ten minutes, I was nowhere else but in the moment.  When I stepped out onto Leeds Street, I felt as centred and calm as after a massage.  Pho as meditation - for a food junkie, that is the one for me.

I loooooove getting your emails and tips - please keep them coming.  I keep them all in a little book and absolutely intend to work through them all so if I haven't been to your favourite place yet, I will soon!  It all depends on what I feel like eating that day.  Feel free to send me a reminder, though!!

Hien Vuong 1 on Urbanspoon

Pho Hien Vuong
37 Leeds Street, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 1470
Hours: 7 days 8am-9pm

Wheelchair Access


  1. Hi Lauren, after your recommendation over laksa I gave Pho Tam a go - lovely soup but I may have been a bit gung-ho choosing the ox tail soup - it came with actual chunks of tail! When I'm not going to Hung Vuong aka 'the one next to nab' I do like Hien Vuong 'the one opposite Westpac'. I have a lingering Anglo self-consciousness about the messiness of slurping noodles, and the mirrored walls at Hien Vuong just seem to multiply it. Maybe I need some mindfulness to block them out ;) xo Daniel

  2. Love the way you wove a little story into this, food and having presence of mind while you eat. I'll take note next time I eat pho. :)

  3. I think I am overdue for some Pho Meditation! :-P

  4. I do wish there was a vegie version of pho! Everything about it totally appeals to me - except for all that meaty stuff! :(

  5. Hi Squee, have a read of this article - apparently there IS vegetarian pho! (Although probably only in Vietnam, although I wonder if Bo De Trai in Footscray do a vegie version?)

    Hi Daniel! Cha, don't be self-consciousness about noodle slurping. It's all about being in the moment! Besides, I forgive anything when I overhear someone ordering offal-y things, given that I am such an offal weakling.

    Hi Bryan and Kurichan - thanks for stopping by and here's to some pho meditation soon. :)

  6. So there is hope... the search is on! I just hope it isn't loaded with mock meat - that was one of the worst things when I traveled through Vietnam!


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