When I first arrived in Vietnam back in 1993-94, there were no such things as Uber, 5-star hotels or vietnammm.com, but there was the Saigon Floating Hotel, and, of course, plenty of xe om (scooter taxi), and, importantly, hu tieu go. Hu tieu street hawkers would set up their carts and then send out ‘knockers’ to walk around the neighbourhood while making rhythmic sounds with bamboo sticks, hence the term hu tieu go – hu tiu, meaning white noodle soup, and go meaning to knock.
When you heard those bamboo sounds, you’d yell out and a young man would come to take your order. A few minutes later he would return with your food. No money would be exchanged until the ‘knocker’ had returned to collect the bowls. Those days are long gone, especially in the city centre and the surrounding districts, but hu tieu is still part of Saigonese culture, and is now thriving better than ever.
You may know that kuy teay is Khmer for hu tieu, but did you know that Nam Vang is Vietnamese for Phnom Penh? Introduced to Vietnam from Cambodia in the 1960s, hu tieu is still hugely popular in the southern part of the country. Hu tieu noodles differ from both Chinese noodles and Vietnamese pho noodles because they are sweeter, especially when minced meat, dried shrimps, dried onions, garlic and chives are mixed in. There’s a range of different styles to choose from, such as hu tieu tom cua (shrimps and crab), hu tieu ca (fish), hu tieu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh style),and hu tieu My Tho (from the Tien Giang Province). It all depends on the available local ingredients. Despite the variations, hu tieu Nam Vang is the classic, and the common elements that connect them all are the pork-based soup broth and ground pork.
Here’s a list of hu tieu places to try. Please email me and let me know what you think, and if you know any more places I need to visit.
62 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1 // 6am to 10pm
Hu tieu My Tho – Comprised of fresh shrimps and crabs, with the option of having it dry (with the broth on the side). The sweet and sour sauce is amazing. This is a long-standing restaurant with a big local following.
Hu Tieu Sa Dec
154 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3 // 7am to 9pm
Hu tieu Sa Dec – choice of dry or with broth. The specialty here is their noodles. Thick and chewy, sort of like like pad Thai noodles.
Hu Tieu Ca Can
110 Hung Vuong Street, District 5 // 6am to 12pm and 12.30pm to 2am
Probably one of the most famous hu tieu places in Saigon, known for their suong, or spare ribs. Their deep-fried chicharrones (tep mo) are to die for. From a cart in the alleyway next to the Sofitel Saigon Hotel, between Le Duan and Nguyen Du, owner Huong and her family run their business five days a week. The menu changes daily and Hu tieu Nam Vang appears every Thursday, but come early – they tend to sell out by 9am.