Pho – A Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles called bánh, a few herbs, and meat. A dish that, served primarily at breakfast time, remains a staple of the early-rising Vietnamese population. Pho is typically consumed at street stalls, where commuters often park their motorbikes before diving into a bowl. Pho is delicious, it’s light, it’s healthy and a great start to any day.
The bad news is that we’re not in Vietnam, so there are no street stalls where you can park your bike and dive into a bowl of delicious pho. The good news is that you don’t need to be in Vietnam to enjoy a good bowl of delicious pho.
Funky Pho is a small family-run restaurant located on Mozsár u. 7 in district VI., recently awarded “Street Food of the year 2014” by Gault & Millau Hungary. All dishes in Funky Pho are free of gluten and lactose. They’re also free of Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other artificial additives; so you won’t have to worry about getting that intense thirst after eating pesty food additives.
It’s not difficult to walk past Funky Pho’s door if you’re not paying particular attention. Look for their Asia-inspired logo, of a cartoon-style girl’s head with a bowl of noodles, above their door. As soon as you enter the restaurant, you’ll be greeted by a vibrant and colourful interior with the unmistakable heavenly smell of pho broth.
The restaurant is very cosy with around 11-12 seats. It gives a similar feeling of how it would be if we were eating street food in Vietnam, where space is often limited and meals are served quickly from small family-run kitchens.
Funky Pho has an open kitchen, so you can see how your food is being prepared. The plating of food is always fascinating to watch because it’s a form of culinary art. The colours, the positioning of the ingredients and the finishing touches play a big part in your first impression of the food and tantalizingly alert your taste receptors . A lot of restaurants underrate the importance of good presentation, not Funky Pho!
Funy Pho is not just about Vietnamese food as it does serve food like Kimchi, which is from Korea. Their dishes are often a fusion of traditional Asian and Western-friendly servings. However, pho features predominantly on their menu.
András, the owner of Funky Pho, invited me and some friends to try their food. To avoid the lunch hour rush and to guarantee a seat, my friends and I arrived at Funky pho in the mid-afternoon.
I started with a refreshing ginger lemonade, an appetite-stimulating drink with a wonderful aromatic citrus essence and zing. Ginger is a common ingredient in the gastronomy of Far East Asian cuisine. Lemonade originated from the Western part of the world. Ginger lemonade’s a fusion from the best of both worlds and so, it was pleasantly invigorating and removed from traditional lemonade.
We ordered three different bowls of pho; pho with sirloin, pho with pork shank and pho with tripe and calves’ feet. While sipping my ginger lemonade, I watched our pho being made in the open kitchen. There bowls were filled with bánh, then came the layer with thin slices of raw sirloin in one bowl, thin slices of pork shank in another and chunks of tripe and calves’ feet in the third bowl. A handful of bean spouts were then added on top. The bowls were then filled with boiling broth which immediately cooked the bean spouts and heated the meat. The meat released all the juices into the broth. Some garnishes were sprinkled on top, adding the finishing touches. Our pho were then delivered to our table on a colourful tray, served with some pickled carrot and a piece of lime. The aroma was divine and the presentation gorgeously enticing.
The bánh was soft and perfectly complemented the sirloin in my pho. The broth was delicious, light, not oily at all and full of flavour. András explained that the broth is made fresh daily with the process starting around 6 a.m each morning; all the ingredients are continuously boiled throughout the day in a large pot. It’s this continuous process that develops the flavours and makes the broth so incredibly delicious. If you are planning to try Funky Pho, this is something you must order – I insist!
Another dish that we tried was Mandu – “pot sticker dumplings” with meat or veggies. This was another dish that I highly recommend. A beautiful dumpling with soft smooth skin on the top and a crispy base beneath. Filled with rich flavour fillings, its juices gush into your mouth when you take that first bite. They’re served with a Thai-style fish garlic dipping sauce but, believe me, they’re just as good on their own.
If you are not keen on soup noodles then you can try the noodle salad. We tried the beef noodle salad which was derived from cold bánh covered with grated carrot, bean sprouts, chunky pieces of fried beef, coriander, deep fried onion and a handful of crushed peanuts, served with fish sauce. It was fresh, light and delicious. It was a jumble of tastes, textures and temperatures that jolted the senses in the best possible way. You can forget traditional mundane salads once you’ve experienced this gem.
If you don’t like regular bánh, then bánh xeo is for you. Bánh xeo is basically a Vietnamese savoury fried pancake made from rice flour, water and turmeric powder. Stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, diced green onion, and bean sprouts. Eaten as a filling, wrapped in fresh crisp lettuce leaves. It was a symphony of texture and taste; the crispy rich pancake, the crunchy bean sprouts, the crisp lettuce and juicy fatty pork. It was a perfect dish to end the main course.
For dessert, we had coconut waffles served with coconut cream and mango chutney. The waffles were warm, sweet and crispy. The coconut favour was delicate, not over powering at all. As you may know, I am not a big fan of coconut but the coconut cream was definitely something I can enjoy again. It was creamy and mildly sweet. It went perfectly well with the waffle. As for the mango chutney, it was a little strange for me initially as, I would normally have it with poppadums. It was suited to the waffles but surprisingly, coconut cream was my preference.
To finish, we had Vietnamese coffee (Cà phê sữa nóng ) or brown coffee. Made with coarsely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roasted coffee, individually brewed through a small metal French drip filter (cà phê phin) into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk. Unlike Western coffee, Vietnamese coffee is much sweeter due to the use of condensed milk. If you like your coffee sweet then you should definitely try this.
Overall, I had a fantastic experience in Funky Pho. The food was delicious, healthy and fresh. Although not a native-Vietnamese, András has travelled extensively through Asia. He has brought his passion for Far East gastronomy to Budapest. András cares about the quality of food that he serves and he cares about the environment. Funky Pho was one of the first Sustainable Restaurants in Hungary, using environment friendly packaging for takeaway options.
Once you have tried Funky Pho, you’ll likely want to return again and again. Be sure to pick up a loyalty card from the counter and get a stamp every time you eat there; the eleventh time you go there, you will have earned yourself a deliciously free pho.