What noodle is that?
What we say:
You could easily eat noodle dishes in Hanoi for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week and still not have the same meal twice. Here’s our quick guide to what’s what when it comes to noodles in the Vietnamese capital.
Let’s start with the most well-known: pho. As we highlighted some time ago, pho is not just a famous soup-based dish but refers to a flat rice noodle. For pho, pho xao mem and other stir-fried dishes it’s cut into strips about three millimetres wide, while for pho cuon it’s cut into rectangles and wrapped around yummy fried beef and fresh greens. Head to the Truc Bach area for a good selection of pho-based dishes or try one of the many different varieties of pho (noodle soup) that can be found around the city — Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su is a good place to start as the different types of pho bo (beef) are clearly listed.
Bun is another rice noodle but it’s round, more like thin spaghetti, and is either served on the side with a dipping sauce (as in bun cha and bun dau), in a soup (bun ca for example) or somewhere in between, such as in bun bo nam bo which combines noodles with beef, herbs, peanuts and a smidgen of light broth. 67 Hang Dieu is a good place to try delicious bun bo nam bo or try Noodle and Roll for a more tourist friendly environment.
My (pronounced mi) is egg noodle. Commonly found in small dried blocks, packaged in polyurethane with a small sachet of dried vegetables and flavouring, and sold for a few thousand VND from grocery stores, my is the ubiquitous instant noodle. It’s commonly eaten for breakfast in Vietnamese homes — or out of home when it comes in a plastic bowl — and while not particularly nutritious is a cheap belly filler. It’s also popularly sold as my xao at streetside restaurants, when it’s hydrated and fried up with beef, greens, flavouring and whatever other veg the restaurant decides to throw in. It’s also available fresh, but the dried version is more common.
If you’ve had quite enough rice, in any form, and have an egg — or instant noodle — allergy, then how about mien? In Vietnam, mien is commonly made from canna or mung bean starch, although it also comes in a number of other starchy varieties, such as arrowroot and potato. It’s referred to by a number of English names, including glass noodles, cellophane noodle and vermicelli.
Mien is less commonly seen around the touristy areas of town but it’s there if you look for it. Two dishes worth trying are mien ngan with poultry and mien luon with eel. A good place for the latter is Dong Thinh Nha Hang Mien Luon on Hang Dieu. Mien is also used in salads, spring rolls and soup — try the vermicelli salad at Com Pho Co. It’s quite a chewy noodle but a tasty alternative.
Even if you don’t want to taste mien, it’s interesting to see it made: take a trip out to Cu Da (Vermicelli) village, on the outskirts of Hanoi to do this.
Finally, banh da deserves a mention. A dark coloured, wheaty, flat noodle, banh da is often found as an alternative at places serving bun cha or bun rieu cua, such as at number 15 Ngo Tran Tien. Yum.
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