Three unmissable Vietnamese noodle dishes: SCMP

By Trang Nguyen
Fri, August 26, 2022 | 4:29 pm GTM+7

Bun ca (rice noodles with fish), cao lau (thick noodles), and bun quay (fresh-cut noodles) are three Vietnamese dishes "not to miss" as voted for by Hong Kong-based daily South China Morning Post.

"While noodle dishes such as pho, bun cha and bun bo Hue are must-eat dishes when visiting Vietnam, it pays to also seek out lesser-known but equally thrilling bowls that are specific to certain towns and cities," SCMP's Chris Dwyer wrote.

Bun ca

Dwyer's noodle journey through Vietnam starts in Hanoi with bun ca, or fish noodle soup, which he described as a "stellar local favourite."

"Like many Vietnamese soups, the deep, sophisticated bun ca broth is made by simmering pork bones for a long time. After this, ingredients are added to the mix including tomatoes, wine vinegar and fresh dill. They impart light and fresh herbal notes and acidity to a dish which beautifully combines sweet and sour."

Bun ca, or fish noodle soup, in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Netspace.edu.vn.

Bun ca, or fish noodle soup, in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Netspace.edu.vn.

Toppings can include crunchy fried catfish or bouncy fishcakes, along with mounds of fresh herbs like coriander and basil.

Dwyer suggested among the best bun ca vendors in Hanoi is Bun Ca Huong Thuy, well-known for its generous serving of fish in every bowl, as well as toppings including crunchy taro stems and even fish stomach.

"Despite bun ca’s ubiquity in Hanoi, Vietnamese-American chef Peter Cuong Franklin, chef-patron at the award-winning Ho Chi Minh City restaurant Anan Saigon, prefers a take on the dish found on the coast of southern Vietnam," he wrote.

Dwyer quoted Franklin as saying: "I think the best version of this dish comes from Nha Trang, where it is fully loaded with all the bounty of the sea: a variety of fishcakes, fried fish and fish balls, large chunks of fresh tuna and the wonderful bouncy texture of really fresh jellyfish."

Bun ngan are noodles with duck in a broth that is aromatic and light, very well-balanced with a clean finish. Then there’s bun oc, noodle soup with snails; a local classic. The broth has an intriguing profile, with intense flavours coming from the Vietnamese herbs, the snails which are poached in it, and a very interesting aftertaste of aniseed," he added.

Cao lau

Dwyer said another worthy noodle destination is Hoi An, the beguiling merchant town that has become one of central Vietnam’s biggest tourist draws thanks to the atmospheric, lantern-filled laneways, waterways, ancient bridges and temples of its well-preserved old town.

"Hoi An’s fantastic cao lau noodles tick all the flavor boxes when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine; they’re sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter.

At Quan Cao Lau Thanh, a restaurant in the city, you’d be forgiven for thinking upon first bite that the thick noodles were Japanese udon. The similarity makes sense considering the city’s history," he commented.

Hoi An’s cao lau noodles. Photo courtesy of 2dep.vn.

Hoi An’s cao lau noodles. Photo courtesy of 2dep.vn.

"What helps make cao lau such a brilliant dish is the layering of all the ingredients: a soup base of slow-simmered pork bones with notes of star anise and cinnamon, five spice pork that has been steeped in soy sauce and fish sauce, a verdant tangle of basil, mint and coriander, and the crunch and freshness of bean sprouts.

"There are also two more final flourishes that complete the dish: a squeeze of calamansi and a generous spoon of smoky, sweet and sticky Hoi An chilli sauce," he commented.

Bun quay

The island of Phu Quoc off Vietnam’s southwest coast is home to bun quay, or fresh-cut noodles, and Kien Xay is one of the area’s most famous purveyors. It started out as a family soup house, but quickly grew in popularity. Today, Kien Xay is a chain with restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Bun quay, or fresh-cut noodles. Photo courtesy of Phu Quoc Travel.

Bun quay, or fresh-cut noodles. Photo courtesy of Phu Quoc Travel.

"Bun quay at Kien Xay affords patrons an interactive dining experience because every diner prepares their own nuoc cham dipping sauce. This makes it a popular choice for families," the SCMP writer said.

"First, diners head to a counter under a hanging sign which directs readers, in English, to “make your sauce”. Here you can spoon together your own mix of chilli, fish sauce, calamansi, salt, sugar and MSG, balancing sweet, salty, umami and sour as you see fit."

After this, patrons can watch their rice flour noodles being made. Chefs take a piece of dough and cut it directly into boiling water, before dividing the cooked noodles and broth between bowls, to which are added a slick of shrimp paste and a choice of proteins like shrimp cakes, baby squid or beef.

Bun quay noodles are served at Kien Xay on Phu Quoc Island, southern Vietnam. Photo courtesy of SCMP/Chris Dwyer.

Bun quay noodles are served at Kien Xay on Phu Quoc Island, southern Vietnam. Photo courtesy of SCMP/Chris Dwyer.

Dwyer shared that a big fan of Kien Xay is Spanish-born Bruno Anon, the executive chef at nearby Regent Phu Quoc hotel, whose love of noodles stems from many years of living in Asia.

“The soft, chewy white rice noodles are perfect with the shrimp, fish paste and simple, clear, slightly sweet broth. The noodles and the seafood are so fresh that all they need to cook is a splash of hot, hearty broth poured over them in the bowl,” Anon was quoted as saying.

“However, really the dipping sauce makes this soup stand out and hits all the taste buds. Its sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and umami," he added.

* Bun Ca Huong Thuy, 14 Nguyen Trung Truc street, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi.

* Quan Cao Lau Thanh, 6 Thai Phien street, Minh An district, Hoi An town, Quang Nam province.

* Kien Xay, 28 Bach Dang Road, Duong Dong district, Phu Quoc island, Kien Giang province.

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