Vietnamese Beef Stew By Any Other Name Is Just as Delicious
Chao Long in Palawan
The first time I tried a bowl of chao long in Puerto Princesa, in Palawan in the Philippines, was fifteen years ago, after a night of coconut arrack shots at a local reggae joint.
Popular among the locals, Lou Chao Long Hauz is near the old airport along Rizal Avenue. The bamboo shack with bright blue-green walls is filled with cane chairs and rickety wooden tables that serve their own version of the Vietnamese pho.
After the fall of Saigon, thousands of Vietnamese refugees flocked to Puerto Princesa and sought asylum in specified camps set up by the government. They were repatriated in the early 2000s. Most of the refugees returned home, or moved West.
But Puerto Princesa, Vietnamese-inspired noodle dishes and crusty sandwiches are as common as the native staples. Filipinos make chao long instead of pho—a name change that would confuse Vietnamese in Vietnam, where chao long is a rice porridge dish similar to Chinese congee. Something got lost in translation.
No one really knows how the name change stuck with Filipinos in Palawan. Chao long in Palawan is not pho at all. It is a close rendition of a Vietnamese pho bo kho, a beef stew with rice flour noodles that is unsettlingly sweet, flavored with lemongrass, and tinted with annatto seeds that give it a lurid orange hue.
The Filipino palate is big on sour and sweet, with a strong aversion to spice. The annatto comes as a substitute for the fresh chillies and chilli oil. Palawan chao long is served with a side plate of bean sprouts, mint, calamansi, (local lime) and an optional boiled egg. Unlike in Vietnam, the chewy noodles are consumed not with chopsticks but with a fork and a spoon.
Chao long shacks are prevalent throughout the province, where a number of them remain open 24 hours a day. The dish is a hit with tourists because it’s hot, fast, and cheap.
Lou Chao Long Hauz is the cleanest and tastiest of the lot. At four in the morning, the Lou Chao Long Hauz is bursting with tipsy locals hunched over hot bowls of chao long. My friend motions to the waitress as we search for a table. “Dalawa.” Two.
Our order arrives and I pair the noodle soup with two toasted baguettes smothered in obscene amounts of processed cheese, butter, and roasted garlic. The trick is to dip bits of the baguette into the bowl.
The sweet and salty broth is an acquired taste, but it’s a pleasant surprise to an empty stomach after an all-night bender.
It serves as a lasting reminder of the Vietnamese community that once called Puerto Princesa home.
Lou Chaolong Hauz
Rizal Ave; 5300 Puerto Princesa City,