Get your slurp on: A foray into other Vietnamese noodle soups
“Brrr…it’s cold outside.” That was the outgoing message my college roommate and I had recorded on our answering machine. Don’t ask why. I think it had something to do with our adoration of Chilly Willy. But today, it is cold outside. It was a freezing 25°F last night in Houston. But who am I to complain? The northern states saw an insane −44°F (according to the hubster). I didn’t even think that was possible outside of the Antarctic.
I am so not a cold weather person. So when it gets down to the 20s, 30s, even 40s outside, my ideal evening is one spent indoors in fuzzy socks in front of the television with a good book. (I like to multi-task, often reading a book in Braille while listening to a sitcom.) And then I like to sidle up to the kitchen counter and slurp down a bowl of noodle soup. That’s the ultimate comfort food on a cold day.
Pho (and I write that here without the proper accents as I haven’t figured out the proper ASCII function) is perhaps the best known Vietnamese noodle soup. It’s becoming more mainstream in larger cities across America, and now there are even some pho restaurants popping up in Mississippi, etc.—states that otherwise have a minuscule Vietnamese population. But the last time I was in Jackson for an event, I was surprised to be told there was not one, but two, restaurants within a 20-mile radius serving up the beloved beefy broth with rice noodles.
Did you know pho originated from northern Vietnam? Supposedly it had both French and Chinese influence. The original pho of northern Vietnam, however, is much simpler than the bowl most of us Americans now devour. Here’s a little history on pho, in case you’re curious.
But if you’re of Vietnamese heritage, you know there is so much more to the noodle soup horizon than pho. There’s one of my favorites, bun bo Hue, of which my aunt (whose family is from the central Hue region of Vietnam) makes a killer bowl. There’s mi hoanh thanh (borrowed from the Chinese won ton noodle soup—another great comfort of mine); hu tieu (often of Cambodian influence of which I’m less fond, but Gordon Ramsay has a great episode in which he peddles it in the Mekong Delta); and banh canh, which seems to be the start of the new rage in Houston.
I recently read this article by Robb Walsh in Houstonia listing other Vietnamese noodle soups to try in Houston. (Houstonia is the magazine in which I’d recently published an essay called “The Vision Thing”.) Walsh’s choices are pretty solid, though I’d say the mi hoanh thanh from Chino Fast Food (if you can get past the name) is the best I’ve ever had. So if you’re in Houston (or next time you’re in Houston), hit up one of these spots for a tasty bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. Or look into your local listings to see if there’s a noodle shop serving up one of these dishes near you. Expand your Vietnamese cuisine repertoire—your palate will thank you for it.
What is your favorite Vietnamese noodle soup or noodle soup in general? Where do you like to eat it? Lastly, can you guess which noodle soup is pictured above?