But at Peter Cuong Franklin’s acclaimed Ho Chi Minh City restaurant Anan Saigon, the noodle dish is taken to a whole new level of delicious thanks to an unexpected secret ingredient — Japanese sake, or rice wine.
Franklin, who grew up in Dalat, about 300 km (186 miles) northeast of the city where he now resides, has spent his whole life around food culture. His mother ran a small restaurant out of their home, and his usual greeting to friends isn’t “hello” but “Have you eaten rice yet?”
After studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok, working at Chicago’s acclaimed Alinea and running two successful Vietnamese restaurants in Hong Kong, Franklin could have rested on his laurels.
Instead, he chose to return to his native country and introduce some of the different flavors he’d tried around the world into traditional Vietnamese cooking.
He chose the name “Anan” — which means, “Eat, eat!” — for his restaurant.
Whatever you say about Franklin’s food, though, don’t call it fusion. The chef believes that despite its Japanese provenance, sake fits in seamlessly with Vietnamese flavors.
“Anything that grows together will be happy together,” Franklin says about selecting complementary ingredients. For him, using sake with rice-based dishes makes perfect sense.
His caviar pho is prepared in a savory, indulgent sake broth.
Other than the sake, the dish’s ingredients — jellyfish, sturgeon, dill, and of course pho noodles — come from the Chợ Cũ Tôn Thất Đạm wet market close to the restaurant.
But it’s not enough to just detect the notes of sake in the pho itself. Franklin recommends pairing his dish with Yamahai Junmai, one of the world’s most prestigious sakes.
Yamahai Junmai is manufactured by Tedorigawa, one of Japan’s most iconic sake makers. The brand was spotlighted in the 2015 film “The Making of Sake,” a documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Dining solo, or enjoying a late night? Head upstairs to Nhau Nhau, a sexy pho and cocktail bar that Franklin dubs “the sequel” to Anan. Yes, there’s plenty of sake on the menu.
Anan Saigon, 89 Ton That Dam, D1, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam +84 904 7929 20
CNN’s Amanda Sealy contributed to this feature.