This evening was, I’d say, more about reconnecting with treasured friends and reminiscing about the old times.
Like most hipsters, I find the Kampong Glam district full of character, intensely stimulating and deliciously chromatic. You’d find indie stores dealing in avant-garde labels and cult brands alongside ultra cool cafes at elbow’s length with speakeasies disguised in plain sight, teases of Bob Marley, the la vida loca of Cuba and the Bohemian Rhapsody, the nation’s young basking under photographic flashes for the sake of Instagram likes and Tumblr reblogs, as well as atriums dedicated to the pleasures of shisha…all under the shadow of the Muslim quarter’s inspirited mosque and the prayers of the faithful. It’s a prismatic feast for the senses – the sights, the colors and smells. Few other places in Singapore reek of such quintessence and pith.
Strictly speaking, Pho 4A is located off the regular trails of the Arab quarter and one might even argue that it’s located outside of it. To get there – and you must really want to go there – walk past Zam Zam, opposite the mosque and up some more till you reach Jalan Pisang, which after dark, looks like an alley that you might find sex, drugs and needles. It’s quiet, dark and suspiciously void of life, but it’s there, tucked in a cozy shophouse.
Pho 4A offers the Muslim community a legitimate and halal perspective on the insular world of the Vietnamese. The restaurant prides itself on specializing in Hanoi-style pho which is generally characterized by its clear simplicity and blandness compared to its more versatile contemporary Saigon pho. The menu also includes an additional selection of ubiquitous Vietnamese classics and side dishes, such as the spring rolls. Despite the virtues and health-giving benefits of Vietnamese cuisine, Pho 4A is quick to add that it’s “sugar-free”.
Unfortunately, the brisket, flank and meatball pho which I ordered turned out remarkably pedestrian. First impressions seemed to indicate that the dish had been left out for a little too long, evidenced by the soggy rice noodles. It was a downhill spiral, with a flavorless broth where even the condiments of lime, chili and basil does little to improve the circumstances. The brisket and flank – likely because they were overcooked – were not discernible and rubbery. Overall, it’s not a place you want to come for pho, if you can help it.