Everybody knows phở is the touchstone of Vietnamese cuisine for the uninitiated. But the country offers a myriad of other noodle soups, as diverse and complex as the plot of One Thousand and One Nights, the renowned Middle Eastern folk tales. Make sure to try these on your next visit to Vietnam!
Varieties of Hủ Tiếu (Rice Noodle)
Hủ tiếu is a type of rice noodle brought to Vietnam by the Teochew people of China. At first glance, it looks like bánh phở (the noodle used for phở) but is relatively softer and wider. Following its introduction in Vietnam, people in the South-Western region of the country came up with their own creation, using rice starch (rice steeped in lye) instead of rice flour to give their noodles a chewy texture.
Most of hủ tiếu variations share a pork stock, with an assortment of toppings, such as sliced pork and organs, prawns, quail eggs and chives. Like many Vietnamese dishes, there’s a platter of vegetables and herbs on the side, such as lettuce, celery and bean sprouts.
Bánh Canh (Tapioca Starch Noodle Soup)
Bánh canh is an udon-like noodle made from tapioca flour or a mixture of rice and tapioca flours, which will respectively determine its chewy or tender texture, as well as transparent or opaque strains. Bánh canh is recognized by its thick strains.
In the South, popular options include bánh canh cua (crab bánh canh) or bánh canh giò heo (pork trotter bánh canh). The former gets its signature orange hue by the use of crab roes, accentuated by artificial colour.
Meanwhile, in Central Vietnam, bánh canh is also paired with fish, which reflects the region’s bounty. These typically have a lighter broth compared to those in the South.
Bún Bò Huế (Huế Beef Noodle Soup)
This noodle soup is a delicacy of Hue, Vietnam’s old capital city. It features vermicelli, which is thinner and stickier than the usual rice noodle. The broth is simmered for hours to capture the essence of beef bones, punctuated by a lemongrass aroma and funky notes from Hue’s shrimp paste.
Bún Thang (Thang Vermicelli – Hanoi Rice Vermicelli with Chicken, Eggs and Pork)
Bún thang is Hanoi’s specialty, a sophisticated dish with many components, which resembles a prescription (thang in Vietnamese). Thus, its name came about.
In bún thang, vermicelli is served with a light and delicate chicken-based stock. Toppings vary among vendors, but the typical ones are shredded omelettes, ham and chicken. Each ingredient is finely sliced and presented neatly onto the bowl, giving a treat for the eye.
Mì Quảng (Quảng Noodle)
Quảng noodle is a term that describes a group of noodles from Quảng Nam with a variety of soup bases: pork, prawn, chicken, frogs… It’s recognized by the crispy sesame rice cracker on top and golden viscous broth, which is simmered until its flavour concentrates. One only needs a little bit of broth (barely enough to cover the noodle).
Bún Ngan (Muscovy Duck Vermicelli)
As the name suggests, this soup gets its flavour from Muscovy duck, a breed of duck with leaner meat and is relatively larger than the regular duck. The broth is cooked with bamboo shoot to give it a distinct aroma and an underlying sour taste. This is balanced by a sweet and tangy gingery dipping fish sauce.
Varieties of Chinese Noodles
The large Chinese population in Saigon gives rise to the popularity of multi-generational noodle shops. These are recognized by shiny carts with illustrations of Chinese historical fictions and often carry large vats of boiling broth; their cupboards displaying yellow noodle rolls and wonton wrappers.
A typical choice is mì vịt tiềm (stewed duck noodle), egg noodle in a medicinal and herbal duck broth.
Another popular option is wonton noodle soup (mì hoành thánh).
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt