Halal Vietnamese fare is a culinary niche that has a shortage of representatives here in Singapore. A select number of eateries offering food from the land of the “Ascending Dragon” have come and gone, but one name still remains: So Pho.
So Pho has been pioneering halal Vietnamese food since it first opened its doors in mid-2013. Seeing that I have not visited for over a year, I returned recently to the obvious destination for Vietnamese food to try items on the menu beyond the basic pho.
1. Summer Rolls w Softshell Crab (S$7.60)
Instead of the standard rolls with chicken and prawns, I tucked into another version on the menu that focused on a more unusual protein: soft shell crab. Just as well: simple as it may be, each roll is expertly filled with a lightly battered crab and julienne cut vegetables like carrots and cucumber.
Every element combines to form a satisfying crunch that wakes up the senses to get ready for the next few dishes. I enjoy the roll on its own as it allows the the fried, buttery batter on the crab to shine, but the occasional dip in chilli is also pleasurable.
2. Mixed Appetisers (S$13.50)
To add more variety to the table while I wait for the mains to arrive, I picked the Mixed Appetisers platter that focused on more recognisable dishes — many of which I’d wager, when ordered à la carte, are a dependable source of pleasure for regulars.
The set includes Prawn Cakes, Summer Rolls, and Fried Spring Rolls — basically, the best trio you could have on the table to whet up an appetite. But my favourite is certainly the Prawn Cakes, which are grilled prawn meat with a stick of sugar cane in the middle. Playful flavours and textures, with the additional natural sweetness from the sugar cane stick making it sweet and salty at the same time.
3. Bún Noodle w Flame Seared Marbled Sirloin Beef & Fried Spring Rolls (S$16.80)
We kick off the mains with the Bún Noodle, a departure from your standard dry noodle dish: served on this occasion with flame seared marbled sirloin beef, fried spring rolls and a distinctive green chilli dressing, all atop a bed of vermicelli noodles.
Warm, layered in flavour and instantaneously invigorating, this is one of the pricier mains on the menu; though the silken mouthfeel of the beef and the unassuming but punchy sauce —it is rather spicy — all combine to form a winning dish.
I love the dynamic contrast here: the elaborate barbecued flavours of beef with the gentle, almost distilled clean taste of vermicelli, and that zestful sauce with hints of lemongrass and lime.
4. Pho Spicy Noodle Soup w Sliced Beef & Beef Balls (S$10.80)
For the next main, the meal pivots toward escalation: hence, a spicy pho served with sliced beef and beef balls. More than any other, the dish embodies the antithesis of Vietnamese cooking. While most Vietnamese dishes are generally not spicy, this one certainly is.
Yet, it is not spicy for spicy’s sake, but rather, made with deftness, precision, and a featherlight touch that aims only to coax out each ingredient’s ‘essence’. Make no mistake, this isn’t mala by any means. None of that tongue-numbing heat going on here. If there’s one word to describe this dish, it would be “balanced”. If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, this would be a great alternative to your standard pho, pho sure.
5. Grilled Lemongrass Chicken w Rice (S$10.80)
The star of this dish is undeniably the grilled lemongrass chicken. With juicy cuts of lemongrass infused chicken and skin grilled to a nice thin crisp, it is hard not to associate this dish to a Singaporean favourite: roasted chicken rice.
But where this chicken differs from the local variety is its fragrant aroma that instantly surrounds you immediately as it is served, as well as its slightly greasy and super juicy meat. Served with salad, keropok, and a sunny side up, this is one dish you can eat daily if you so desire.
6. Baguette w Beef (S$7.50)
Aside from pho, banh mi is another dish that I associate with being Vietnamese. However, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never had banh mi at So Pho, until now. And from my first bite of their beef banh mi, I wish I had tried it sooner.
Don’t dismiss So Pho’s banh mi just because pho seems to be an obvious choice when dining here. With a generous serving of tender marinated beef — reminiscent of Korean bulgogi — sandwiched in a crisp baguette, this sizeable banh mi involved some jaw workout. But the rewards are fantastic.
The beef has a good meaty and savoury sweet flavour, although its best trait in my opinion, is that it is satisfyingly moist. It occurred to me that I may have subconsciously avoided banh mi because I perceived it to be dry, but this one at So Pho is anything but dry. Definitely will eat again.
7. Mango w Black Glutinous Rice (S$5.50)
If you have tried the famed Thai mango sticky rice, this version is not far from the tangent. Mango, checked. Glutinous rice, checked. Coconut milk, checked. But that’s about where the similarities end. For one, black glutinous rice is used instead of the normal white rice so visually, it is already starkly different.
I imagine fans of ‘pulut hitam’ would be able to appreciate this dessert more. Honestly, black glutinous rice does have a slightly more grainy and fibrous texture than its white counterpart, and I can see how it can be off-putting to some. But I don’t mind it here.
Layered with gula melaka sauce and coconut milk forming an almost yin and yang effect, the sweetness and saltiness from both liquids carry the glutinous rice well. The mango is meant to be sweet but it was about a day away from being fully ripe when we visited. That aside, I would give this dessert another try just because I’m a fan of ‘pulut hitam’.
8. Hot Longan w Red Dates & Ginger (S$4.80)
If you have prefer a lighter finish to your meal, order this cheng tng-esque dessert. It can be served either hot or cold, but the former is where each ingredient truly shines.
The dessert is only mildly sweet, pulling its sweetness from the longan and red dates. Ginger adds warmth to the taste without overpowering the entire drink like teh halia would, and I imagine it is perfect on a cold, rainy day like most days this time of year.
9. Vietnamese Drip Coffee
For someone with a lifelong addiction to espresso, Vietnamese coffee is one that I do not partake in regularly. Partly because it is uncommon in Singapore, and perhaps more because I am mildly lactose intolerant.
Yet, from seeing my dining partner drink the coffee, it was clear to me that the drink is taken seriously here. She highlighted the strong and thicker brew — perhaps from extremely roasted coffee beans — and copious amount of condensed milk make for an intense, distinctive taste. She is not much of a coffee drinker so I took a sip to verify that it is indeed very gao.
10. Soda Chanh
Another uniquely Vietnamese drink on the menu is the Soda Chanh, a type of Vietnamese lime soda. Simply put, this sparkling limeade is a light-citrus bubbly beverage perfect for sipping on a warm day, or when you need to diffuse a fire in your mouth from dipping a little too much into chilli sauce, which So Pho is very generous with.
Super Value Sets at S$11.80
If you are a savvy diner like me, you perk up when you see words like “set meals”. So listen up, because So Pho is having a promotion for S$11.80 Super Value Sets.
From now till 31 January 2021, you can get a choice of Main and a Drink for S$11.80. You can choose from the following Mains:
- Spicy Pho Noodle Soup w Sliced Beef & Beef Balls
- Pho Noodle Soup w Sliced Beef & Beef Balls
- Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Rice
- Grilled Lemongrass Beef with Rice
- Basil Leaves Fried Rice w Salted Fish/ Beef/ Chicken/ Vegetables
You can also add on Summer Rolls w Prawns, Grilled Chicken & Chicken Ham for S$2.90! Totally worth it.
Available at all So Pho outlets from Monday to Friday, 11am – 5pm and available whole day, from Monday to Friday at Great World, IMM, Suntec City. Not valid on eve of PH/PH.
Casual dining space
While most of the dishes on the menu take cues from Vietnamese street food, the dining space in So Pho is anything but pedestrian. I have dined in the Paragon outlet numerous times, and once at the newer outlet in VivoCity, and I have to say that So Pho restaurants are comfortable and airy.
Over the years, I joke that the only thing we could afford in Paragon — a mall for well-heeled Singaporeans — was the food at So Pho, and that probably remains true till this day. But insofar as I could tell (on a bustling Thursday afternoon), the crowd in attendance was about as diverse as Singapore itself — a testament to So Pho’s universal appeal, and timeless reliability for affordable, delicious Vietnamese fare.
This article is brought to you in partnership with So Pho. However, opinions are our own.
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Food4/5 GoodSo Pho's pho will always remain our favourite, but there are other underrated items on the menu that deserve attention such as the banh mi and Bún Noodle w Flame Seared Marbled Sirloin Beef. Clean, well-balanced flavours.
Price4/5 GoodHard-to-beat value with most items costing under S$15. If you're dining in a centrally located outlet like Paragon, So Pho throws the cost of dining out of the water relative to other restaurants in town.
Location5/5 AmazingWith over 12 outlets located around Singapore, So Pho is easily accessible to all. Islandwide delivery is also available.