In the cities of Vietnam a very common breakfast, and sometimes lunch or dinner is a hearty bowl of soup. All of the popular breakfast soups seem to have a few things in common: a homemade broth, rice noodles and fresh herbs. As a lover of all comfort foods I was very excited to have this as an option early in the day and chose it at every opportunity. Though it lacks what we expect out of a breakfast like high fiber grains and fruits I found it was the perfect way to start my day it kept me full until lunch.
Phở is a beef (Bò) or chicken(Gà) based noodle soup which is probably Vietnam’s most famous export. Invented in Hanoi in the early 1900s after the French influence popularized beef, it has influences that appear to be both Chinese and French. I eat a good amount of pho locally, but as is always the case, the authentic soup is quite different, even when generalizing across regions of Vietnam. After returning and having a few bowls of soup I am struck by the contrast of flavours and proportions.
In Vietnam the broths were lighter and less complex than you find here, the spicing of cinnamon and anise which is so prominent in North America was usually so subtle as to be almost undetectable. For example, the broth for Phở Gà so resembled my own homemade chicken stock that it wasn’t until I had sampled several bowls in different places that I started believing it wasn’t an anomaly. The other large difference is in the proportions of noodles, broth and meat. Where locally the broth seems to be in equal proportions to meat and noodles, in Vietnam the broth was always the star with a healthy portion of noodles and a small portion of meat.
I was also lucky enough to sample and discover a few of the less well known soups of Vietnam, my two favorites being Bún Bò Huế and Bún Riêu Cua. Bún Bò Huế translates loosely to beef soup from Huế, a city in the center of Vietnam known for it’s diverse local cuisine. The broth is unique because of the strong presence of lemongrass and a generous helping of chilies. Although garniture varies by food stall, the bowls I sampled all had braised pork and beef, Vietnamese sausage, fresh herbs and a thick round, rather than flat, rice noodle. Once I was lucky enough to also get some of the congealed blood the locals bowls all seemed to contain. Unfortunately, my lack of Vietnamese and enthusiastic gesturing usually wasn’t enough to have it added it in the first place.
Bún Riêu Cua is a noodle soup with a tomato and crab based broth. Crab shells are pounded fine enough to make a paste which is stirred into the broth for flavour. Popular in the North of Vietnam it is also frequently served with snails, Bún Riêu ốc. This soup is similarly garnished with round rice noodles and Vietnamese sausage but it also comes with more crab paste and big chunks of deep fried tofu which help soak up that beautiful broth,
Now, if I could only find a place, other than my own kitchen, to get noodle soup locally before 8am I would be all set.
Next up? More local delicacies and eating on the street.