Pha Lau Saigon - the street food which has never stopped

Pha Lau Saigon - the street food which has never stopped "attracting" customers

Ho Chi Minh City 15.12.2020

Saigon street food is famous for dishes such as noodle soup, mixed rice paper, broken rice and so on, and it is impossible not to mention the attractive Pha Lau. Not only is this dish famous for a rather strange-sounding name, but also its uniquely rich and greasy taste.

Translated by nguyendo

Written by thyltp

What is “Pha Lau”?

The name “Pha Lau” comes from the Tieu language in China to indicate a typical dish. The word "Lau" means using hot spices to remove the fishy smell of "Pha" - which is the internal parts of the animals. According to many anecdotes, in the past, after making dishes from pig or chicken, Tieu people felt that it was such a waste to discard all of the animals' internal organs. Therefore, they cut all these parts into bite-sized pieces and then marinated them with spices like five-spice powder and some water. Later on, they ate this dish day in and day out, and they would add some water and salt if the broth ran out.

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Pha Lau is a dish originating from China. Photo: foody.vn

Tieu people (China) immigrated to our S-shaped country and brought this dish together; gradually, it has existed, developed and has been loved in all regions, typically in the south and especially Ho Chi Minh City with the most busy areas including Cho Lon and District 3 - 4.

Many variations of Pha Lau

At present, the popular ingredients of Pha Lau the internal organ of cows, pigs and beef tripes. Because the dish is made from internal organs and meat of animals, the raw ingredients are always prepared very carefully before being cooked. People often use salt and lemon juice to remove odors, and then wash them with water several times. Then, cut the ingredients into small pieces and marinate with spices such as five-spice powder, curry, star anise and some herbs. In particular, the cinnamon will create a typical sweetness for the dish. After that, people will fry the shallots and stir-fry ingredients until they are well-cooked; add coconut milk and simmer them. When the ingredients become soft, you can enjoy the dish with bread, yellow noodles, coriander and a little dipping sauce. Because of its origins from the Tieu people, Pha Lau has a strong taste of Chinese cuisine, but there is still a difference that this dish has the greasy taste of coconut milk, creating a bold flavor.

Currently, there are many ways of making the dish:

Boiled Pha Lau: processed as usual but not greasy, much more frugal.

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Skewered Pha Lau. Photo: inhat.vn

Grilled Pha Lau: After being marinated with spices, Pha Lau will be grilled until raising a fragrant aroma.

Pha Lau soup: This is probably the most popular and favorite cooking method. Pha Lau will be put in a bowl of broth with a light sour taste of tamarind, which can be served with instant noodles or bread.

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Pha Lau is usually served with instant noodles or bread. Photo: foody.vn

Pha Lau stir-fried with tamarind: The method is similar to Pha Lau soup, but it is combined with the sour taste of tamarind.

Pha Lau with broken rice: This is a unique cooking method only available in the south of Vietnam. It is still the broken rice with scallion oil and sour food; but ribs, pork rind and rolls will be replaced by the crunchy and chewy pieces of Pha Lau.

Depending on each type of variation, each bowl of Pha Lau will cost from VND 20,000 to 50,000.

Places in Ho Chi Minh city to enjoy delicious Pha Lau

In the past, when mentioning Pha Lau, people would immediately think of a street dish with a cart with a large pot and a coal stove underneath. This is a familiar dish of many generations of students in Ho Chi Minh City, and you can also easily find it in popular restaurants in this land.

Pha Lau Aunt Nui

Address: 30 Ton Dan Street, District 4

This is one of the restaurants that has won the hearts of many local people. The broth is thick and not too fatty while the chewy and fragrant pieces of beef will satisfy all diners. The bowl of sweet and sour kumquat sauce will add more flavors to the dish.

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Pha Lau Aunt Nui restaurant with 40 years of history is still attractive to diners. Photo: travelerbase.com

Li Restaurant

Address: 1A Suong Nguyet Anh, District 1

This restaurant has many branches in many different districts, which offers a wide range of choices of Pha Lau in the form of boiling, grilling, hopot, stir-frying with tamarind, dipping with bread and so on.

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An attractive serving of Pha Lau at Li restaurant. Photo: baomoi.com

Pha Lau Ngoc Tham

Address: 137 Nguyen Thien Thuat, Ward 3, District 3

In addition to Pha Lau, the restaurant also offers dumplings, dried beef salad, fried fish balls and so on. This is a quite suitable place for you and your friends to drink and chat each free afternoon.

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A hot pot of Pha Lau at Ngoc Tham restaurant. Photo: zing.vn

Pha Lau Ms. Thao

Address: 243 Ton Dan Street, Ward 15, District 4

Regardless of the restaurant’s small space, thanks to its deliciousness, a lot of people often go here - leading to the lack of seats. The most impressive thing at the restaurant is the sweet and spicy sauce. Although the serving is small, all kinds of the internal organs are included, and pieces of Pha Lau are well-cut, giving it a delicious taste.

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Pha Lau Ms. Thao with her own special recipe. Photo: foody.vn

Although Pha Lau is a dish originating from China, it has its own unique taste that cannot be mistaken with any other dish thanks to the combination of rich spices, the greasy taste of coconut milk and the crispness of the internal organs. Pha Lau is not only a popular dish, but it is also a distinctive feature of Saigon's diverse street food.