Every time I ride the bus on Telegraph, Kang Nam Pho stands out to me like a supernova. (There are these “sorta” cosmologically important exploded stars that have been on my mind for quite some time now, which is an excuse for the sparse blogging of late.) I’ve seen Chinese-owned pho places, but they never have a Chinese name. Pin Toh on Shattuck, which used to be Phở Hòa, has pho cooked by Chinese chefs, but it’s a Thai diner (talk about incognito). In my American pho encounters, Kang Nam Pho is the first instance of a Korean-owned Vietnamese diner with a Korean name. They even put the whole “Phở” with accents on their white-on-red sign, next to “강남 윌남국수” (Kang Nam Wilnam guksu, i.e., Kang Nam Vietnamese Noodle). I like this place already.
Their menu is also all in Vietnamese, again, with complete accents albeit some misspellings; there is English description under each name and very little Korean. I vaguely remember bibimbap and bulgogi at some bottom corner of a page, but Kang Nam has things that even a common pho joint wouldn’t always have, such as hủ tíu Nam Vang (kuy teav Phnom Penh) and mì bò kho (noodle with beef stew). The tables are even equipped with green chopsticks, hard-to-eat spoons and sauce bottles. If only the customers didn’t flock every table that day and keep the ladies moving like shuttles in a loom, I would have asked what inspired them to make the place even more Vietnamese than a Vietnamese would, for better and for worse (the spoons…).
After ordering the inevitables, gỏi cuốn to start and phở chín nạm gầu gân sách (brisket, tendon, tripe) to fill, I followed the usual practice of a lone diner: pull out a book and pretend to read while eavesdropping on my neighbors. However, just barely 3 minutes into opening the book, the summer rolls arrived. Casting aside my literate facade, I started rearranging the roll halves for a good pic when the noodle soup swiftly got placed in the way. They did it fast. That’s how pho should be: you got a pot o’ broth, cooked meat, and blanched noodle ready, an order comes, they all go into a bowl. It shouldn’t take more than one minute. The problem is with me: too little time for a good picture and unable to decide what to eat first. The pho won. The rolls wouldn’t get soggy waiting.
This is one of the best pho I’ve ever had (mom-made pho not included). Deep and subtly sweet broth, chewy noodles, lots of tripe and tendon. A clean aftertaste and a warm broth until the last morsel. Little Mom, a frequent pho craver albeit a picky patron, would like this pho. Why didn’t they struct their business a little closer to campus so that I could come here for lunch? Would they serve blanched beansprout or pickle onion if I ask for it? Next time…
Whenever I ride the bus on Telegraph, I contemplate pulling a stop request for a bowl. Perhaps I’ll go tonight in the name of celebrating Little Mom’s birthday. We’re Vietnamese, but just to go along with this post’s blending spirit: 생일축하해, 엄마!
UPDATE: A 5-second roaming on the ‘net reveals that the Koreans like pho (I’m not surprised, they have plenty of beef based noodle soups) enough to make Korean pho restaurants, and generally Korean pho broths are described as more bland (if disliked) or more clean and fresh (if liked) than Vietnamese pho. For Kang Nam, I side with the latter. Which reinforces the consistency of my pho style. Those who have eaten pho with me often shake their heads at my indifference toward the sauces and the herbs: I don’t put veggies into my pho (not a single leaf), and I don’t adulterate my broth with Sriracha or the black bean sauce. I like my pho pure: beef and noodle. More Korean pho samplings are necessary before I can confirm the difference. When the supernovae start making more sense, the new quest will start. But is this quest possible in the Bay Area?