Phở Chu The, Footscray

Pho Chu The, Footscray

I had grand plans to work my way through the phở of the Melbourne suburb of , bucket-sized bowls of beef soup every weekend, but never quite got there. There are no less than 20 phở establishments within easy walking distance but every time that I kick things off, I get the nagging feeling that it is just not worth the effort. Phở in Melbourne is above average. Terrible phở is the exception (but not impossible to find). Brilliant phở only exists in people’s homes.

I’d love to be proven wrong.

You’ll never find a rich, herbal phở on the streets of Melbourne. The herbage that accompanies usually will only stretch to basil with the occasional appearance of mint. Sawtooth coriander, ngo om (rice paddy herb), or any other miscellaneous herb that could differentiate an outstanding bowl of phở, while widely available across Melbourne, never make it into a phở restaurant. The broths are beefy but the spice is toned down. The meat in each bowl is great – a big step above the Saigon street corner – but it can’t carry the dish.

Chu The has two outlets: one in Richmond, the other in the dead centre of Footscray, opposite the market. The Footscray joint is packed, all the time. Their phở bo dac biet (beef special), above, is sweet and umami. A few glassy fingers of tendon are glassy and cooked to rubbery perfection but it is otherwise much of the same.

The damage: small bowl of phở bo dac biet: A$7.50

Location: 92 Hopkins St, Footscray

18 Comments Phở Chu The, Footscray

  1. Anne

    That’s sad to hear. Che The is my favourite place to go for restaurant pho — but then I almost always have the chicken broth, not beef, with a changing array of bits and pieces. No, it’s not herbal or interestingly different. But I look forward to the heavy spicing of Che The’s chicken broth, something that sets it apart from every other pho I’ve eaten in Melbourne. The accompaniments are fresh, the atmosphere comforting, the chicken livers sliced into soft mouthfuls that are perfect with sliced chillies — it’s where I like most to be on a cold night.

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  2. KD

    What are the MSG levels like? I’ve had to abandon Pho Dzung Russell St due to (what seems to be) escalating contributions of flavour enhancer 621.

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  3. Anne

    Oh, high, probably. Tasty, tasty, 621.

    Jokes aside, I don’t think they use much. But I’m not allergic, it’s a complex broth, and I’m not trying to taste for it.

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    1. Phil Lees

      They’re judicious in their MSG use at Chu The. You could always add more from the condiments caddy if you were feeling underwhelmed.

      I’ve never eaten at the Russell St Pho Dzung – but have made it to both Richmond and Preston branches.

      Reply
  4. Sheena L Young

    In a neighborhood close to my home in Chicago called Little Siangon…there are Thai and Vietnamese restaurants stacked on top of each other. I have yet to even eat at half of them even though I have it about one to two times a week. Here you can get a huge bowl…probably can feed two to three people for about $7. It’s crazy. I love cooking but I realize it would be more expensive to make at home since they offer such huge portions at such a small price.

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  5. Tammi Jonas

    Phil, how often do you think/find people making pho at home in Melbourne? I know it’s incredibly uncommon in Viet Nam to do so, but am writing at the moment about this precise habit of migrants to try to recreate homely flavours, even of things they never made ‘back home’. You can also check out my entry about making pho at home not long ago on my blog. :-)

    Oh, and ‘hi’ Anne! Maybe we should head down to Che The soon? :-)

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  6. Billy

    I tried Pho Chu The in Richmond recently on the recommendation of a couple of friends. It’s definitely now my own recommendation for pho in Victoria St, even if it is up the far end of the Sai Gon strip. The broth is probably the best I’ve found in Melbourne so far.

    And I’m STILL totally bummed I missed Tammi’s home-made pho. :(

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  7. Phil Lees

    The only Vietnamese people that I know well are obsessed about food – which is probably a bad, distorted sample – and they tend to make a huge batch of pho every few weeks and freeze it – I can put you in touch with them if it helps your PhD (and they agree). I get the feeling that making street food at home for any migrant group increases when you leave your home country. You wouldn’t make these things back in VN because labour is cheap and practically nobody owns a freezer. It’s also worth noting that the boundaries between home cooking and street food tend to get blurry – pho is amongst the minority of examples of a food that is rarely cooked at home (from scratch) because you need to make it on a grand scale to make it economically.

    Most other street foods do get cooked at home if they don’t require specialist equipment or an economy of scale. People also cook simpler home versions, or just instant from a pack, but arguably, these are different dishes. Is instant pho really pho? Andrea Nguyen eats it over here and it also turns up on the menu at many shitful roadside Vietnamese restaurants. Maybe instant pho doesn’t count as “real” Vietnamese food because it doesn’t fit within our accepted notion of authenticity, even though real Vietnamese people eat it. And when we say “home-cooked”, we tend to mean “cooked from scratch” rather than “poured from box”.

    Your home cooked pho looks great, by the way.

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  8. Tammi Jonas

    Thanks a lot, Phil. I agree about who makes street food and why, and have already included examples in my chapter, however, would love more stories about Vietnamese Australians (1st, 2nd, etc generations) and their ways of maintaining homely identities around food. So maybe I’ll get in contact with you after I finish this chapter (due Friday of next week), as I am on the lookout for possible people to interview.

    As for the instant pho, et al, as a devoted ‘home cook’ (meaning as you say), I ‘personally’ shudder at these things, but as I am theoretically interested in notions of authenticity, I find such foodstuffs very interesting. I’m currently working on authenticity as site-specific, contextual, subjective and contingent. Which is a huge movement from where I started, which was just ‘fraught category’. :-)

    I really like this blog of yours, btw, and only recently discovered Phnomenon (brilliant name, as you know!) via Anne (above), and really really liked the entry on “Why Travelers Dislike Khmer Food”. Lovely to read your stuff.

    Reply
  9. Phil Lees

    Tammi – cheers. I’m a big fan of poking holes in authenticity while I inadvertently uphold certain notions of it (although, probably more so over at SBS than here or on Phnomenon).

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  10. Andrew

    I hadn’t been here yet…just tried a pho for lunch on this recommendation.

    As Phil says, even for a Tuesday lunch, it was packed out. No menu in english here, so you gotta know what to order, which is OK for most people these days. (just gotta know what to expect if you order the ‘special’ meats!). Fairly light on the MSG/Salt quotient for those wondering.

    Really good stuff too…thanks for the heads-up.

    Reply
  11. Love Pho

    Without a doubt, this is the best Pho (imho) in Melbourne.

    I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity to try home-made Pho, but compared to the other Pho places I have tried here in Melbourne, Pho Chu The undoubtably gets my vote as Melbourne’s best Pho.

    Reply
  12. Stacey

    I ate here many times and enjoyed it,, but last night i went to eat with a few of my work friends and was disgusted how there were two big rats just ran out of the kitchen to the tables and of course we were scared! we told the waiter and the boss he ended doing nothing, she ended laughing and just walking in the kitchen.

    I notice they recently renovated the restaurant, but it was disgusting how two rats just runs out of dining area while we were still eating! Awful!!!!!!!!!!

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  13. Ray

    Pho Chu The is the best I have tried in Footscray, but there is one in Geelong that stands out. It was called Pho Noodle Geelong but now it’s Bay City Noodle. It’s on Ryrie St, just along from the old T&G Building. Outstanding Pho, even comparing it any of my seven food exploring trips to Vietnam. You must try it.

    Reply
  14. Lena

    Gem – I second that. Heaps of my westside friends love Pho Tam, heard the owners use minimal msg and are consistently fresh produce….haha haven’t seen any rats there

    Reply

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