“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?

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25 Discussion to this post

  1. alison says:

    Looks delicious! Bun bo Hue? Wish I had some right about now 🙂

  2. alison says:

    Changed my mind. The broth is too light in color. Mi hoanh thanh? Mi hwant thum (me want some)! I know. Bad joke.

  3. Phantastic says:

    No Bun Rieu mention?! Bun Rieu and Mi Quang are my favorites. However I can only eat Mi Quang once a month. It heavily relies on the veggies sides you add to it. Otherwise it can be bland. But put enough sides and some of the chili sauce (not the rooster sauce) that comes with it, and it is amaziiiiiiiiing.

  4. Nguyen Trang says:

    I'm in Ho Chi Minh city. It's 1.45 am here and I'm starving . Looking at the pic's really torturing me.

    By the way I guess it's bun rieu or bun moc ?

    • Christine Ha says:

      Haha…I always lie in bed at night reading about food, and it makes me hungry too. You're right! It's bun rieu. Is bun moc with squid? I've never had that before, I don't think.

  5. Darci says:

    I don’t know which it is but i want some!!!

  6. Diep says:

    Bún mọc lưỡi lợn? Please give us a hint, it looks like a tempting! My favorite is Bún riêu and Bún Bò Huế. I love to eat Bun Bo Hue in the Middle or South of Vietnam since i come from The North and i really taste the differrent. But i love Bun Rieu in Hanoi, a Bun Rieu Gia Truyền on Trần. Nhân Tông st. Anyway, my point is i love Christine Ha and her cooking style. All the best to you Christine! xx

  7. Quyen says:

    It is more like bun rieu because of the paste, the rau muong, the soup color and the type of noodle. My all-time favorite Vietnamese noodle soup is pho…bun rieu and bun bo hue. The new pho place, Pho Duy, on Wilcrest and Bellaire, is good. Banh Cuon Hoa has tasty bun rieu cha ca oc and for bun bo hue I would go to Bun Bo Hue Duc Chuong. I have tried your recipe Pho Ga Cua Me and it came out very yummy! Thanks, Christine 🙂 Wishing you and your family a happy and prosperous 2014! 🙂

    • Christine Ha says:

      Wow, thanks for your comment, fellow Houstonian! I haven't tried Pho Duy, but I'll add that to my list. I generally like Pho Danh and Pho Hung. I agree with you on the bun bo Hue shop, though Kim Chau is good too. I haven't had bun rieu at Banh Cuon Hoa, but I've had it at Thanh Thien. You?

  8. Gordon says:

    Hi Christine, is this picture of one of my favorite soups with tomato, snail and garlicky crabmeat? I want to try your noodle soup recipes, I love pho. Thanks for the history, I did watch Ramsay’s episode on the Mekong Delta.

    • Christine Ha says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting! Yes, it's that noodle soup you described, though I'm not sure garlic goes in it. 🙂

  9. Quyen says:

    Yes, Christine :). I have eaten bun rieu at Banh Cuon Thien Thanh. I like the bun rieu at the other place a bit better because of the tastier broth and of the cha ca (as being a fish lover I am!) Same like you, my husband likes Pho Hung or A Hung, he loves the pho tai be at these two places! I agree with you, Kim Chau is good too but if one prefers the smell and taste of the lemongrass then they should go for BBH Duc Chuong. Christine, generally, where do you go to buy your chicken to cook pho or chao ga? and what kind of chicken would you get? 🙂

    • Christine Ha says:

      My husband eats pho every Monday for lunch with his coworkers, so I've already told him to try Pho Duy and report back to me. 🙂 What exactly is pho tai be? I always get pho tai, but I'm not sure which part of the cow is “be.” Forgive my lacking Vietnamese. And thanks for the juxtapositions between the bun rieu and BBH joints. Have you tried the new banh canh place in the same complex as Thanh Thien? I think it's called Que Em Vi.As for chicken, I usually buy halal chicken from H-E-B as I strive to support animals that were raised and killed humanely. But I think I'm going to need to find a different source for my meats outside of the grocery store. I know there was a Vietnamese chicken/egg farm on the SW side of town where my dad used to buy eggs and ga di bo. You have any suggestions?

  10. Annie says:

    Hi Christine. Bun rieu looked delicious with bean sprouts and rau muong. My favorites noodles of all time are Pho, Bun Moc, Bun Rieu, and Bun Bo Hue. It is hard to find restaurants that have Bun Moc in their menu. Bun Moc came from Northern Viet Nam. Bun Moc is usually home made. Bun Moc is made with pork broth soup like Bun Rieu. Moc is made with combination of fine chop pork meat ( gio song), black mushroom, pearl purple onion, salt, and pepper. Bun Moc also cook with tomato. But you do not want to leave tomato in Bun Moc for so long. You just want tovhave flavor of tomato in the soup and not tomato color. Bun Moc broth has to be clear like Pho. Like all your shows. Wish you and your family all the best for New ayear

  11. Cong Do says:

    Being originally from Hai Phong, a town up north of Vietnam 60 miles away West of Hanoi, my favorite noodle soup would have to be banh da cua (crab rice noodle soup). It's completely different from bun rieu cua that we often see in Vietnamese restaurants in the States and I haven't been able to find it everywhere I go. Probably because not many people are from my city and it's really a well kept secret inside it.

    • Christine Ha says:

      Sadly I don't think I've ever had banh da cua. What does the middle word “da” translate to?

      • Cong Do says:

        the whole word "banh da" means "rice noodle." It's my hometown's specialty. It's very wide, about two – three times the size of "pho" with the same thickness. It has the brown color from molasses (not sure) that is a secret from the makers. It's really awesome!

  12. Wes says:

    I always get the Phò tài nam at Pho Thanh Long in Houston. YUMMY!!!

  13. Forrest Cargile says:

    i haven't tried a lot of Vietnamese soup dishes, but I definitely like Bun bo Hue. It has a nice spicy flavor, and it's very good on a cold winter night. I'm not a very good cook, but we have an excellent Vietnamese restaurant here.

  14. fancySimple says:

    Oh I love this soup and cant wait to try this. Thanks for sharing this.

  15. Elisa says:

    This looks like a really tasty soup – I love Asian cousine and will try this with my boyfriend on the weekend 🙂

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