Thick noodles of goodness!
One favourite soup of the south, and a must try on a trip through Saigon, is banh canh — a soup that’s probably not as recognisable to the typical travellers as perhaps pho or bun bo hue.
Banh canh includes a noodle that’s much thicker than what you typically find in a Vietnamese street soup. It’s about as close as you’ll get to a Vietnamese version of udon, the difference being that banh canh is made from rice or tapioca flour instead of wheat. Banh canh comes in a huge number of variations; two bowls of banh canh can be very far apart on the flavour spectrum. A bowl of banh canh cua, or soup with minced crabmeat, for instance, tastes quite a bit different from a bowl of banh canh with a knuckle of pork.
When ordering banh canh you’ll have to make several decisions. First you’ll pick the meat; the previously mentioned crab and pork knuckle are popular choices but you can also find boiled pork, fish balls and tofu, among other options. You’ll also choose between two noodles: the regular banh canh noodle, which is a thick, white rice noodle, or banh canh bot loc, where the noodle is even thicker but instead made from tapioca, resulting in a slippery, almost clear noodle.
Once it comes to your table, eating the banh canh can be less stressful than some other soups. Unlike say mi quang, you won’t have much prep work to make the soup ready to eat. You’re simply given a small plate of leafy green vegetables, headlined by lettuce, which you can add to the bowl as you see fit. If you’ve ordered a pork version of banh canh you’ll also be given a big bowl of fish sauce which you can use to dip your meat into.
It’s not uncommon to find a street cart selling banh canh, however it probably won’t sell many variations — it will usually stick with a single noodle and meat type. If you really want to have a variety of choices you’ll need to find something more like a street restaurant — an establishment that has covered seating but probably not streetside walls. This is where they’ll have a menu page dedicated to different banh canh options. One such street restaurant is Hoang Ty in District 3, which is famous for its morning banh canh, which starts at around 30,000 VND per bowl.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 7th February, 2017.