The Cambodian influence
I have been eating hu tieu Nam Vang for years. I had always thought it was of Chinese origin, but it wasn’t until recently that I found out this noodle soup cooked in pork stock actually derived from our Cambodian neighbours.
Both Thailand and Vietnam have large ethnic Khmer populations in addition to the common thread of centuries of Chinese migration. Hu tieu Nam Vang is popular in Cambodia’s neighbouring countries, as well as countries that have large expatriate Khmer populations. The dish was introduced to Vietnam around the 1960s and is still hugely popular in the southern part of the country. Nam Vang noodles differ from Chinese noodles and Vietnamese pho because they are sweeter, especially when minced meat, dried shrimps and onions, garlic and chives are mixed in.
Hu tieu is prepared by immersing the dry, thin rice noodles in boiling water and then quickly cooking them. The noodles are then strained, placed into a bowl, moistened with caramelised garlic oil and covered with a sprinkling of peanuts. After dressing with a sticky brown liquid made of oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar, the bowl is then filled with a clear broth made from pork bones, dried squid and sugar, and seasoned with a bit of fish sauce.
Next come meat toppings, which may include an assembly of minced pork, pork belly, quail egg and seafood such as crabmeat and shrimp. Some versions of hu tieu Nam Vang can be quite humble and basic, using just ground pork and perhaps some dried shrimp, while others can be more time-consuming and extravagant. The dish is then garnished with an array of chives, onions, parsley and garlic.
There’s a range of different items to choose from such as hu tieu tom cua (shrimps and crabs), hu tieu ca (fish), wonton noodles, steamed vegetable dumpling and banh bao (steamed bun) filled with pork or chicken, mushrooms and onions.
One of my favourite places to get hu tieu in the city is Quan An Tan Lac Vien in District 5. My wife, who is Chinese and from the Cho Lon area of District 5, introduced me to it. Despite being married for more than 10 years, my wife continually surprises me with these local gems, and now you can try them, too.