Tucked away in a back alley of Mouraria, lies the hidden treasure of “Pho-Pu”. The restaurant is named after “Pho”, a Vietnamese street food dish, basically a broth with some noodles, fresh herbs and meat, beef or chicken. There really isn’t anything else to the place than soup and some Chinese ravioli, nor is that necessary because Pho-Pu packs quite a punch.
Whether you find it charming or frustrating is another matter, but the only drawback here is that the Chinese owners hardly speak any Portuguese so you kind of have to sign language your way through the meal. The conveniently numbered menu is small and the interior designer really wasn’t in the mood to make a big effort to decorate the place. Implied, subliminal message stimulated by the smells of broth coming from the kitchen: you don’t come here for anything else but food.
We ordered the Vietnamese Pho-soup which was actually big enough for two people, served in a huge white bowl. The broth tasted intensely beefy, the rice noodles were cooked to delicate perfection and the (presumed) beef brisket was so tender and full of flavour that even Nora (an “I tend to avoid meat whenever I can” kind of person) didn’t mind having several slices. They serve the soup with some soy shoots, some kind of oyster sauce, finely chopped chili’s and spring onions on the side, with loads of fresh basil and mint, which actually grows behind you in small pots on the window sill. Nice as they are, they’ll even tip the accompaniments into your bowl if you look unsure on how to proceed.
If there was something to improve, the two “meatballs” had a slight artificial taste and the lemon served on the side should definitely be replaced with lime, which would give you a more bright, sharp acidity, a better fit for the dish. We also got served some vegetarian Chinese raviolis which tasted of shii-take mushrooms. They were served with a vibrant, vinagry dipping sauce which cut beautifully through the thick, rich ravioli.
Without a doubt, we’ll go back to try the Chinese soup and some other raviolis. We also heard about a “Pho” which is made with chicken – a variation of the dish which apparently originated on a day when the local market had no beef for sale – which “Pho-Pu” unfortunately doesn’t have (yet). The things that blew us away were the fresh vegetables and herbs and the clean tasting, intense broth, all of it truly a rarity in Mouraria. Even though we love Mouraria and despite a huge number of immigrants from India and China, it is a neighborhood full of Chinese or Indian restaurants which too often settle for make-shift, generic facsimile dishes with a high level of MSG.
That being said, the owners could make a bit of an effort to learn at least a little bit of Portuguese (we can help them!) just to make the whole experience a bit more comfortable and easy. We had some questions about the soup and the history of the dish, but it was difficult to get into a good conversation. But then again, this is really not the place to exchange a lot of niceties. It was substance over style all the way and when “Pho-Pu” delivers that in spades for such low prices, there’s really not much to complain about.
No, we have never been to Vietnam and have no clue as to how the dish tastes over there nor is that extremely relevant: on the cold, bone-chilling autumn day that it was, a warm bowl full of Pho-Pu’s version of “Pho” was exactly what we needed. Watch out though for the chilli’s they’ll put in the soup for you: they look like little red flecks of scorching hot coal lumps and make the soup taste lovely and hot but when you bite into them, they are like an apocalypse. You have been warned. Now go there.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 11h00 –16h00, midnight, 18h00-23h00, closed on Sundays
Address: R. do Benformoso 76, 1100-394 Lisboa
Phone Number: 211307473