▲ Is good Pho the sign of a good Vietnamese restaurant? Photo by Thai An Kim
Growing up as a Vietnamese-American in Boston, I was never lacking in delicious, home-cooked Vietnamese food. In fact, I rarely went to Vietnamese restaurants because they just can’t compare to my mom or aunt’s cooking.
Why bother paying for a typical bowl of pho when I can get fresh bun rieu with extra crab meat and shrimp paste at home?
However, since living in Jeju, I have been having cravings for real Vietnamese food. No bland broth with a side of kimchi, please!
As such, I was delighted to hear about and eat at Hanoian Brothers, a Vietnamese restaurant near Youngnak Church in Geonip-dong.
▲ Hanoian Brothers's chef, Kim Tae-yeob Photo by Thai An Kim
As soon as I entered the restaurant, I could hear Vietnamese music. What a pleasant surprise! I was in the mood and ready to eat. I opted to try the pho bo, bun cha, and nem.
The bun cha came out first. I was served a plate of grilled pork over beansprout, a plate of white rice noodles, chopped salad, a bowl of fish sauce, and a small Korean side dish of radish.
My family is from the south of Vietnam and we often enjoyed a similar noodle dish called bun thit nuong. However, we would mix the fish sauce into the noodles and eat it as a dry noodle dish.
Here, my noodles, meat, and salad would all go into the bowl of fish sauce. I was a little taken aback at first, but that didn’t deter me from eating with gusto.
▲ Vietnamese spring rolls Photo by Thai An Kim
The meat was well seasoned and the fish sauce was light and sweet. The sauce didn’t overwhelm the noodles and the salad. I think I could get used to this northern Hanoi style!
Next on the table was pho bo. This beef noodle dish was the ultimate test of a Vietnamese restaurant to me. If you can’t cook pho right, then you don’t know your Vietnamese cuisine.
The pho bowl came with a good amount of vegetables and thinly sliced pork. However, there were no beef meatballs or pieces of tendon like the pho back home.
I was given a bottle of hot sauce, some chopped garlic and red peppers for extra seasoning. I felt that my pho was still missing something. The chef was very accommodating and gave me hoisin sauce, lemon juice, and home-grown cilantro.
▲ Bun Cha is made up of grilled pork, beansprouts, noodles and fish sauce Photo by Thai An Kim
Now, I was ready to eat. The broth was so good! It had great flavors and depth. The chef explained that he cooked the broth from scratch. After mixing in all my sauces and cilantro, that first bite of noodle, meat, and the soup was like a taste of home. I couldn’t get enough of the broth!
Nem was the last dish I tried. At a glance, it looked like a Vietnamese fried spring roll, with its crispy white skin filled with some meat and vegetables. The accompanying fish sauce balanced the flavors well.
It’s not a style I’m familiar with, so I spoke to Chef Kim Tae-yeob about it. He lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for several years before coming to Jeju and opening Hanoian Brothers.
I learned that in the north, the skin is thicker than the south, and the filling has more vegetables, instead of meat and shrimp. Chef Kim also offered to make me bun cha in the southern style the next time I visit.
Not only was I able to learn about the cooking style of northern Vietnam, I also found a place to satisfy some of my Vietnamese food cravings. Needless to say, I look forward to my next dinner at Hanoian Brothers.
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