This is no mere blog post. This is a love letter. This is an ode to a bowl of noodle soup.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of rice wine I had drunk,
Or emptied some Bia333 to the drains
One minute past, and Mekong-wards had sunk.
OK so I’m no Keats but the pangs of allure are real. You don’t understand how much I love this dish. It tastes sweet and salty. It fills you up like a bowl of warm hugs. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner then go for seconds, thirds and fourths. It’s more reliable than your best friend and steadier than any would-be boyfriend would have you believe. It’s like having ten chocolate puppies lick your face in Walt Disney’s kitchen. It’s like having Anthony Bourdain cook you a bowl of spaghetti with Tinkerbell sprinkles. It’s outright delicious. And I want it now.
This is perfection personified.
This is Mì Quảng.
Mì Quảng is a noodle dish from Central Vietnam. Hailing from Quảng Nam Province (Mì = noodle, Quảng = the province’s namesake, literally ‘noodles from Quảng’), this delectable bowl of goodness has a formidable reputation, often served as a popular streetside mealtime option all over the country. It’s working-man food, but oh-so complex, incorporating many ingredients designated to their culinary destiny.
It’s more flavoursome than Phở, more comforting than Hủ Tiếu, has more re-eatability than Bún chả. It’s the scrappy little brother of the Vietnamese rice noodle family, sadly underrated yet rich in so many qualities. It gives you broth, noodles, spice, sweetness and a bucket load of protein. Yeah I think it’s the best. Wanna fight about it?
So what goes into this dish that I’ve been raving about like a loony?
Let’s start with the noodles. Your standard Mì Quảng rice noodles should be thick and flat, making up the ribbon-like bulk of the dish. Often these noodles will have been tinted yellow with turmeric, for both colour and a subtle earthy taste (although, if they’re white that’s fine too. Mì Quảng’s chill like that). They’ll be cooked beforehand.
Next is the broth. Traditionally this dish is less of a soup compared to others, with only a modest amount of broth sitting at the bottom of the bowl betwixt the noodles. This is because it’s quite strong, adding saltiness to the rest of the dish as per an accompaniment. However, southern Vietnamese tend to like doing things their way, making it more of a full-on soup dish with more broth there to get your shirt dirty. The soup is made by simmering meat and bone in water (chicken or pork usually), generating an intense meaty stock. Add fish sauce, garlic, shallots, black pepper and, if you want to go all out, turmeric.
Now, PROTEIN. Mì Quảng is a gym junkie’s dream, featuring a variety of proteins that give a wide scope in textures and flavours. In a typical bowl you can find shrimp, a lucky quail’s egg, pork (or some sort of mystery meat) and a healthy sprinkling of peanuts. Filling but thrilling.
And of course, you can’t forget the accompaniments. Mì Quảng is typically served alongside plates of greens: on offer are mint, basil, coriander, banana flower and lettuce. However the life of the party has to be the standard toasted sesame cracker (bánh tráng me), which you crack and sprinkle over your soup to give it some crunch.
If you’re lucky, your Mì Quảng will be served with a heap of chili jam. Sweet and spicy salutations to this glorious creation.
Serve with an ice-cold glass of tra da and you’re golden.
Now that you’re probably salivating all over your keyboard, it would be useful to know where you can hop to and gobble some of these noodles up.
Here are a few of my fave Mì Quảng spots in Saigon:
- Mon Hue – a big Vietnamese food chain in Saigon, specialising in delicacies from Central Vietnam. They do Mì Quảng the traditional way, turmeric and all. A little pricier, but generally a cool place to sit and enjoy a bowl.
- Quán Mì Quảng Mỹ Sơn – 7 Kỳ Đồng, P. 9, Quận 3, TP. HCM – A great little spot on the cusp of District 3 and the Le Van Sy bridge. Their broth is a little saltier, and have excellent rice crackers. Enjoy with a glass of soda chanh.
- Mì Quảng Thu Bồn – 174A, Nguyễn Trọng Tuyển Street, P. 8, Quận Phu Nhuan – My love affair with Mì Quảng began at this family-run venue. Always greeting you with a smile, the owners run this place like clockwork, topping up tra da and serving out steaming bowls with ease. Grandma always makes recommendations, scooping chili jam and squeezing lime into your bowl with eager eyes. I just can’t get enough.
So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike and try it.
I’ll leave you now to ponder with the musical stylings of these lads up in Da Nang. If I haven’t convinced you yet, these guys certainly will. I mean, “how many foods got their own damn song?!”.