Vietnam's $170 Bowl Of Pho Features Wagyu Beef And Shaved Truffles

First, we had the world's most expensive sundae. Then came the world's most expensive hamburger. And now we have a new entry in the race to turn everyday foods into luxury items. Although it hasn't yet claimed the "world's most expensive" title, a restaurant in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City is offering a bowl of phở — yes, we're talking about the beloved Vietnamese street food— for a whopping $170. That's right. The simple food the late chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain once savored in nondescript Vietnamese night markets with low plastic stools and crummy fluorescent lights while telling the world in an episode of "No Reservations" (via YouTube), "For me, a good bowl of phở will always make me happy," has entered the realm of luxury food. 

So, what's the big deal? We wondered the same thing. Apparently, the upscale phở on offer at Oriental Pearl restaurant in Vinpearl Landmark 81 — a luxury hotel located in Vietnam's tallest building complex — is, at its core, a traditional bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. Le Trung, the executive chef at Oriental Pearl, decided to put his own spin on the country's national dish, which has long been recognized as an edible representation of Vietnam's cultural heritage. Of course, he had to come up with a few tweaks to justify the heady price. "This is my re-imagining of one of the world's most popular dishes," Trung told CNN Travel. "Traditionally, phở has not been considered fine dining, but we have managed to enhance the flavors to make this version taste wonderfully rich and indulgent." 

Taking phở to new heights

The foundation of chef Le Trung's $170-per-bowl serving of phở is a slowly cooked broth — 48 hours in the making — achieved by simmering marrow bones, oxtail, chicken bones, and beef ribs with a blend of spices including ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. It's close to the authentic street food Anthony Bourdain knew and loved — the broth he described on an episode of "No Reservations" as having "dulcet tones" with "shimmering, glistening little globules of marrow, fat, and other goodness." How do you improve on that? Better yet, how do you justify charging more than 50 times the going rate at the night markets?

The most obvious route would be to replace common ingredients like standard cuts of beef, garden-variety mushrooms, and duck fat with their ultra-luxe versions — Wagyu beef, shaved truffles, and foie gras. And the noodles? There's no skimping there, either. They are crafted by a Ho Chi Minh City family that's been making traditional noodles for four decades. Then there's the matter of supply and demand. 

Trung keeps a tight lid on servings per day. Initially, the policy was to serve only three bowls daily, but the soup proved so popular that he upped the count to 10 bowls a day. What else? Well, in a coincidental twist, Oriental Pearl's $170 bowl of phở has something in common with the aforementioned record-setting sundae and burger. They are all garnished with edible gold leaf. As Trung told CNN Travel, the gold leaf elevates the appeal of the dish "so it does not simply look like an ordinary bowl of noodle soup."