[Nate sez]: as he cradles his first sandwich of the day...In light of all the glorious stupid jokes one can make about Vietnamese beef noodle soup like: Pho Real, the Pho-cking best, & call me on the Pho-ne, let's just skip the shit and get down to business.
As the national dish of Vietnam, we're all (hopefully) familiar with it in one respect or another - a meaty beef soup flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and five spice, filled with fresh medium width rice noodles, topped with raw sliced beef, brisket, tripe or other offal, and finished with basil, mint, rau ram, chilies, fish sauce, chili sauce...and the list goes on.
Every single street stand, every soup-slinging hole-in-the-wall, every overpriced, tourist oriented upscale noodle dive has a distinctly different style. The condiment trays vary widely, the amount of anise or 5 spice changes, are they fresh noodles, dry noodles, chili oil, chili sauce...nobody knows. You simply have to try them all.
And we did. And we do. And frankly, after 14 days of shoving bowls of 60 cent noodles down our throats, we still can't quite get over the shocking variety, the heart and soul, and the massive repeat value these noodles deliver. It's breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner.
Maybe you've had too much Hanoi Vodka - have a bowl of Pho. Maybe those tiny Vietnamese guys who took you out to the best clams and snails you'll ever eat drank you under the table - have a bowl of Pho. Maybe you're homesick, desperately lonely, and the cacophony of motorbikes, screaming children, and blasting Backstreet Boys are killing you - Have a bowl of Pho. This isn't world traveling food writer's over-romanticism, it's the stone cold truth.
[Ben sez]: Yeah, we save that kind of romanticism for our sandwich ladies.
Call it the chicken soup of Vietnam. This comfort food at its finest.
Viet Noodle Primer:
If you think that all there is to Vietnamese noodles is Pho...you're just wrong. As much as I'll go on for days about Pho, I'm a diehard Hu Tieu boy to the end. Pho is beef soup and medium-width noodles. Hu Tieu designates a whole different creature: rich pork soup, sometimes clarified, sometimes not - filled with thin rice noodles, roasted pork, shrimps, maybe wontons, maybe seafood, and garnished with the same dizzying multitude of herbs, chili products, and citrus. Order Hu Tieu Mi and you'll get thin Chinese-style egg noodles. I personally only roll with rice noodles, but if you need some variety, it's okay with Mi once in a while (I'm not sorry about that one).
Ben and I are constantly at odds over which is better. He's beef Pho-Life. I roll with the Who's-Hu Tieu crew. Pork stock is god.
Bun: Rice vermicelli rocks out in noodle salads and special soups. You may order a Bun dish and get a bowl of noodles with grilled pork, fried spring rolls, and herbs, served with nouc cham (sweet, sour, spicy, Vietnamese fish sauce) and pickles. You may order Bun Bo Hue and get a tomatoey-sweet/spicy beef and thick rice vermicelli soup. Bun refers to the type of noodle: round rice noodles.
There are also clear noodles, thick wide noodles, thick round clear noodles, pork skin noodles, long noodles, short noodles, fresh noodles, dried noodles...let's face it, these guys don't fuck around. Vietnam is noodle heaven. We've covered half a square kilometer and it took us almost two weeks to eat at most of the street stalls and noodle garages.
We heard that Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) doesn't have much to offer - few museums, not many tourist/world heritage sites, and it's loud. Who the hell cares? If you like food (meaning if you have a pulse) - this is Mecca.
Welcome to the Noodle Revolution.