A tasty version of Vietnamese noodles arrives in Seoul via Washington, D.C.

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A tasty version of Vietnamese noodles arrives in Seoul via Washington, D.C.

In the heart of Sinsa-dong, the Prada-clad Yuppies leave their SUVs with parking valets. They glide through sliding glass doors and are seated on minimalist Italian furniture. Then they order their food and watch Korean pop divas sing on a wall-mounted liquid-crystal display screen.

This is the prelude to a hot bowl of pho at the newly opened Pho 75. Fans are raving about these Vietnamese rice noodles in beef broth that have come to Korea via Washington, D.C.

The restaurant's owner, Chun Youn-je, was studying in the U.S. capital a few years ago when he fell in love with the Pho 75 chain's noodles and their strong, beefy soup.

He convinced the chain's reluctant Vietnamese owners, who had opened their first restaurant in 1985, to allow him to franchise their operation and take it to Korea.

Six months ago, he opened his first Pho 75 in Songpa-dong, eastern Seoul (02-419-4719). He brought the restaurant's head chef, Pham Tan, to Korea to replicate his soup, which is perfumed with star anise and ginger. Mr. Pham now makes the broth for the Songpa-dong outlet as well as two newly opened eateries in Daehangno (02-741-4075) and Apgujeong-dong.

And, to best the original, Mr. Chun has contracted the rights to import top-quality rice noodles from a company in Thailand.

Pho 75 serves pho with various sliced beef toppings: tai (eye-round steak), chin (brisk), nam (flank), gan (soft tendon) and gau (soft brisket). The soup is a real heat generator, brimming with chopped chives, sliced onions, fresh sprouts and cilantro. The taste of the tender meat comes alive when spicy red chili sauce and hoisin sauces are added.

The regular size costs 7,500 won ($6.50) and large 8,000 won. Extra noodles can be ordered for 1,500 won; extra meat for 2,000 won.

Pho 75 also serves fresh spring rolls (3,500 won), made with rice vermicelli sheets wrapped around vegetables and shrimp, and deep-fried eggrolls (3,500 won) made with chopped vegetables and minced pork.

Diners usually don't leave Pho 75 until they have their Vietnamese coffee, either hot or iced. The iced coffee is made strong but is rendered mild after being dripped onto ice through a tiny metal strainer and mixed with condensed milk and sugar syrup.

by Ines Cho
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