A tribute to Cristal (Thao) and the “secret animal” that is in Pho

Long Phung  is our favourite Vietnamese joint in Singapore.

159 Joo Chiat Road S427436

Nestled amongst the rows of restaurants and Vietnamese bars at the upper end of Joo Chiat.

Authentic and tasty. I think it measures up to the top Vietnamese outlets in Ho Chi Minh that I have tried. I love the spring rolls here.

But Gavin and Megan just commented “Aunty Thao’s Pho is still the best in the world “

My dear friend Cristal Lim (Thao) was born in Vietnam but grew up in Bordeaux town, France. She relocated to Singapore many years ago and is the hot mama of 3 beautiful and incredible kids.  Thao is one of the most amazing and beautiful people you can ever meet – beautiful inside and outside. Besides being a successful business woman, she tirelessly raises money and makes trips several times a year to Vietnamese orphanages and old folks homes.  She is not your typical Tai Tais who raises money through glam balls every few years or so  but walks the walk tirelessly.   She goes to remote provinces in Vietnam every year and is right there hugging the children and caring for the sick and aged, and gets her children involved too.

She also makes the most unbelievable Pho and other Vietnamese dishes.  So when I wanted to learn how to make Pho years ago, she became my Sifu. Over the years, she taught me about the ingredients, how long to boil the meat, why you would roast the ginger and onions over an open fire, the different herbs and spices she buys from Vietnam and this “secret animal” that every Vietnamese cooking pho uses which brings it to the next level.  She shoved this packet of what looked like dried twigs in my hand and said “ use the secret animal sparingly “.  It was only in recent years that I discovered what the “secret animal “ was .  It’s called “sa sung (Sipunculans)” and it’s a kind of sea slug or sea worm that is dried and which gives the Pho an intense umami flavour.  And yes the articles do say that every Vietnamese pho cook worth his salt would use Sasung in their soups.  I don’t suggest you see a picture of the sa sung in its undried form though. And I think you won’t find it in Singapore and need to buy it in Vietnam.

So thanks to Thao my Pho will always contain sa sung or “the animal” as I tell my helpers.  Just don’t think about it but focus on the finished product.


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