The author lives in a quiet rural community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.
For most people, when someone mentions Vietnamese food, phở is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Phở is no doubt the most well-known Vietnamese noodle soup. From London to New York, from Tokyo to Bangkok, phở restaurants can be found in many cities around the world. However, this soup is not is not the only one that Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. There are several other traditional noodle soups that are equally enticing. And they’re gaining popularity!
Here are five delicious noodle soups that you may find on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant. No need to make a special trip to Vietnam! One of the best places in the U.S. to try these soups is in Little Saigon—the capital of Vietnamese culture and culinary traditions—in Southern California.
Note: Vietnamese noodle soups are served as main entrées. They can be enjoyed at any time of the day: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Unlike the small soup cup you usually get at a Western restaurant, Vietnamese soup comes in one BIG bowl!
An ngon! Bon appetit!
1. Bún Bò Huế
Originating from Hue—the former imperial city in Central Vietnam—this intense but tasty soup is known for its pungent spicy flavors. Round rice noodles are used and the broth (made from simmering oxtail and pork leg bones) is heavily infused with lemongrass, roasted garlic and hot chili oil. It is usually served with tender pieces of beef brisket, pork leg meat, thinly sliced banana blossom, rau que (cinnamon basil), rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), mung bean sprouts, and a special fermented shrimp paste called mam ruoc. You may find this soup at a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in Hue cuisine.
2. Bánh Canh Cua
This is a wonderful “comfort food” soup from South Vietnam. The chewy noodles are made with tapioca flour (instead of the usual rice flour) which gives this soup a thick, glutinous consistency. Cua is the Vietnamese word for crab. The rich seafood-based broth is packed with crab meat. Cilantro, green scallion, and cracked black pepper complete the taste. There are several versions of banh canh cua, and sometime quail eggs or meatballs made of ground pork and shrimp are added.
3. Bún Riêu Cua
This is another delicious soup from the rice paddy regions of South Vietnam. The tangy broth is first prepared by simmering tomato, onion, tamarind paste, along with crab legs, claws and shells. Then a mixture of sautéed crab meat, minced dried shrimp and beaten eggs is slowly poured into the boiling broth to form a thick layer. It is traditionally served with vermicelli rice noodles, fried tofu, and lots of fresh herbs like rau tia to (perilla), rau kinh gioi (Vietnamese lemon mint), cilantro, and mam tom or salty shrimp paste. Another version of this soup is called bun rieu oc, where freshwater snails are used instead of crabs.
4. Mì Quảng
Mi quang is named after Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam. To make the broth, pork and chicken bones are simmered for hours before adding pork belly meat, shrimp, fish sauce, garlic, and fresh turmeric. The turmeric gives this soup a unique flavor and the rice noodles a bright yellow color. It is garnished with roasted peanuts, scallion, cilantro, and banh trang or sesame rice crackers. Traditionally, mi quang is best enjoyed as a “dry” soup, with the broth served in a separate bowl. Use a spoon to scoop the broth into your noodle bowl (do not fill to the brim, just enough to wet the noodles), break some pieces of banh trang over the top, mix well, and bon appétit!
5. Mì Hủ Tiếu
This soup is quite popular, often called the “cousin” of phở. Like phở, it has a humble beginning as a cheap street food dish. Today, it’s still regarded as one of the favorite street foods in Vietnam. Vendors still dish out steamy bowls of mi hu tieu from their food carts to customers squatting on plastic chairs scattered all over the sidewalk. Mi hu tieu is also a perfect example of Chinese influence in Vietnamese cuisine: egg noodles are mixed in with rice noodles. It is usually served with slices of cha siu or Chinese barbecue pork, shrimp, and scallion. Wonton dumplings or fried shrimp fritters called banh tom chien are sometimes included as toppings. You will find this satisfying, addictive soup at many Vietnamese restaurants.
When eating noodle soup in Little Saigon, the author learned that it's ok to slurp! It means you’re really enjoying the soup. Everyone does it. Some slurp louder than others!
© 2016 Viet Doan