Had the movers in today. All getting a bit real. Little over one more month and we’re outta here… which got me thinking… of all the street stalls, diners and sheds I’ve mentioned on noodlepie which ones will I miss the most? At the moment, this one is well up there. It’s a mi hoanh thanh stall. It’s not the most amazing noodle soup you’ll ever bump into, but it’s one of the more animated, at least in its formative minutes. Loadsa noodle tossing, stacks of steam, servers steeped in sweat, the clatter of pans, ladles, and bowls, the chatter of customer orders combine with motorbike engines and horns to make this kinda like an oriental version of Bar Bruno.
Sometimes it’s not just about the food, it’s the entire sensory experience. Next time I drop by I’ll try and remember to make a cameraphone film. The pics don’t really do this place justice.
One of the shabbier shacks in Saigon’s District 10 up along the gargantuan Cach Mang Thang Tham street is Mi Xao Don at number 527. It’s the sort of place you’d have great fun taking a Californian food hygienist and Asia-newbie to begin and end a case study of induced nervous breakdown. The joint could use a splash of Dettol and a slobber of paint, but, I’m assured this is the spot for a quality mi xao at a price that will leave you with enough change for some Immodium.
Mi xao is a fairly simple stir-fried noodle dish. I’m here to
grab a takeaway stir fried beef order (or is it buffalo? I’m still undecided). The mi are pre-deepfried and bagged up seperately cold. They’re crispy, crunchy, greasy, snacky, nicey. Meanwhile, the chef above flash fries the fuck out of some mustard greens, same deal with the strips of cattlemeat. Throw in a wee cup of stock and the streetside frying show is over in under one minute. 58.5 seconds actually. I timed it.
The crisp, greasy mi and the fresh greens make a decent wee combo, even if the end result is all a bit "So what?" The beef, buffalo or whatever it is, is not massively chewy, but chewy enough to involve a noticeable degree of jaw gymnastics. But, it’s cheap. It’s big. It fills and all in all I like. I think it was 10,000VD, there or thereabouts. Sod all, whatever. Here’s the menu.
Everyone in Saigon has an opinion on food. I’m always asking where’s the best this and best that and always get a reply. Last night I asked a xe om driver if he knew a decent mi hoanh thanh (wonton noodle soup) stall in the vicinity. He did. And here we are at a front of house stall at 276A Cach mang thang tham street in District 10. I order a take home wonton soup family bucket. This gives me five minutes to sniff around as my order proceeds along the highly efficient, rapidfire, steamy production line. There are two guys in charge. The elder, with belly out, is on wontons, leaves, greasy fried crackers and thin, fatfree pork slivers. The younger, streetside and belly covered, has the soup and noodle end of things covered.
Great bar stool seating, wooden counter with room for three or four punters, decked out with bare essential condiments. The resto is packed to the fluorescent tubes. Not a spare seat in the shack. Everyone’s wating for the same dish. It’s a one dish house.
I love these kinda seats. You’re right in on the action and the noise,
half on the street, half not, target of any flying wontons, greens of knocked over soy sauce. Plus wonton stalls are packed with bonus fun points in the form of mucho steamo. A
ringside seat assures frequent blast of sweet pork scented vapours. I imagine a stall like this in China would be a fabulous gathering spot in winter. With year round heat, Saigon can’t compete with Franz Klammer friendly China, but you catch my drift.
Saigon mi hoanh thanh can be a bit fatty. But not here. It’s a light, slightly peppery, very slightly sweet pork stock soup. The fresh yellow, mi noodles are served al dente with just the quickest flash in the (nuoc leo?) pot stall front, followed by a few seconds in the main stall soup vat. Throw in some he (a kinda garlic chive), a single green leaf, greasy cracker, three or four thin slices of pork and five or six seasoned minced pork filled wontons. Serve with a bowl of soy sauce and chopped fresh red chillies.
It won’t blow your tits off, it’s not a revolutionary dish, but it’s a very good, clean and simple soup. This is a good version of it. Costs 11,000VD or 1.52 North Korean Won (apparently). I’ll be back. More pics.
Mi Chu Tac at 20-6A Ky Dong Street in District 3 is noodle mecca. It’s located on a street/alleyway corner opposite a cafe that promises to show all Champion’s League football matches in Europe live. Mi Chu Tac bills itself as a ‘Chinese Noodle Restaurant’ and concentrates on Mi noodle dishes. Mi are yellowy in colour, a bit like fresh spaghetti (kinda) only slightly slimmer and are heavier and more chewy than the commoner, peasant noodle, bun. These are posh noodles.
Enter, negotiate the parked motorbikes inside and scope out the chef’s quarters. The extensive menu includes won ton, shrimp, veggie and duck noodle soups. They also serve Ha Cao – minced pork stuffed dim sum wannabes – which make for an excellent appetizer.
I used to come here a lot a few years back, but slipped into phoning and ordering delivery deals circa 2003 (Tel: 08 9 318 966). Dropping by today I see they’ve tarted the shack up with romantic pastel shades and intimate table and chair sets. I order the Mi Vit Tiem (Chinese medicinal duck noodle soup) for a salamander’s slither over 30,000VD. I only ever order this or the Mi Oanh Thanh (Won ton noodle soup) ‘cos… well I’m boring. Inside we have a duck, noodles and some mustard greens.
I usually stick the duck on a separate plate and dissect from there, but not today. I’m feeling dangerous. The duck happily falls off the bone, the pharmaceutical vapours coming direct from China hang over the bowl like a dancing flavour fog, a five spice rainbow of temptation, frolicking over your tongue, tempting you, drawing you in to its subtle, yet complex, but at the same time paradoxically simple weave of intricately laced tastes… Oh bollocks… I knew that’d happen one day. Can someone put a coupla quid in the meter, please?…
Noodlepie has been noodle-less, but not pie-less, for way too long. With feet firmly back on the streets we pick up where we left off with a surprise home delivery of Mi Hoanh Thanh. The Mi noodle is commonly used in fried noodle dishes and is pretty good deep-fried to a crunch and topped with seafood, veggies and any sauce-u-like. This noodle soup comes stuffed with delicate mini-dumplings or wonton (Hoanh thanh – wonton – geddit???) So, I guess we’re talking a bastardised Chinese dish here. But, at 8,000VD a throw, I won’t complain too much about the bastard in my bowl. The soup is a notch above wan and watery, but several rungs down from being a crock-rocker. Sadly, the ‘hoanh thanhs’ collapsed at my every touch with the minced pork and shrimp innards making a bid for freedom in soup jungle.
This Mi Hoanh Thanh came with the selection of veggies pictured above – beansprouts, lettuce, freshly sliced red chili, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon. Bung in what you like and off you go. It’s a filla, not a stunna. This one came from somewhere in District 3. For a cheap and reliable Mi venue, you could drop by Mi Chu Tac at 20-6A Ky Dong street just down the road from Ngu Vien restaurant in District 3. Apparently, there’s also a branch at 57 Ho Tung Mau in District 1. Mi Chu Tac boasts nine different Mi dishes including an excellent ‘medicinal’ duck dish – Mi Vit Tiem.