Vietnamese cuisine features dozens of noodle soups. Each region highlights its own specialities and local flavours. A bowl of noodle soup is a symphony in which every ingredient is arranged in precise harmony and in a fixed order.
|Flavourful: Bún bò giò heo is hot and spicy, the way people of the central region like it.|
Bún thang is a brilliant example of the noodle soups of northern Viet Nam. Culinary expert Chiêm Thành Long said the dish is a perfect example of the precise mind-set of northern people and the culinary sophistication of the region.
“The dish is eye-catching at first sight,” he said.
“The bowl of bún thang looks like a colourful painting in which each colour is painted harmoniously, creating a pleasant feeling for our eyes.”
“Traditional bún thang is made of nearly 20 multicoloured ingredients synced in a chicken and pig bone broth. The mix is delicious and nutritious.”
The word thang “means prescription”. Historically, the word was associated with both northern Vietnamese and Chinese medicine. The soup is comprised of many healthy ingredients and was originally named for this mixture of good elements.
To make the dish, the cook first sprinkles salt on the chicken and rubs it into the skin to remove some of the bad poultry smell. The chicken is boiled with grilled onion and ginger slices. Then the cook shreds the chicken meat finely.
The cook uses eggs to get the yellow colour in bún thang. The pan is greased with vegetable oil before frying the eggs. “Pour the egg mixture into the pan and tilt the pan in a circular motion to coat the base of pan. Quickly pour the mixture back to the bowl. You will get a very thin egg sheet,” Long said.
The egg sheets are sliced into thin strips. Then so do giò lụa (Vietnamese pork roll), perfumed mushrooms, salty turnips, herbs and spring onion are cut into small threads and added to the dish.
A hot bowl of bún thang can be topped with mắm tôm (Vietnamese shrimp paste) to enhance aroma and taste.
Bún bò giò heo
Originating in Huế, the former capital of Việt Nam, bún bò giò heo (noodle with beef and pig’s feet) is a hidden gem of the Vietnamese cuisine of the central region. It’s a rich and spicy soup with deep layers of flavour. The broth is paired with tender slices of beef and pig’s feet, then topped with lots of fresh herbs, including banana flowers.
A bowl of lemon water is prepared for the banana flowers, the petals are then removed and any mini bananas are discarded. The lemon water keeps the petals from browning and removes some of the bitterness.
Cubes of congealed pork blood are another integral part of this dish. They are slightly chewy and jellylike.
What makes a bowl of bún bò giò heo exceptional is mắm ruốc (fermented shrimp paste) which is made from ruốc, little shrimps caught in the central sea region.
Famed chef Võ Quốc learned how to cook authentic bún bò giò heo from an elderly upper class Huế woman.
“The beef and pork must be boiled in separate cauldrons. That’s one of the secrets,” Quốc said.
“Her recipe and methods are different from how I used to cook the dish. Her way creates an extraordinary bowl of bún bò giò heo.”
The scent of lemongrass, mắm ruốc, satay sauce and onion should pervade a good broth. The people of the central region love hot and spicy food, so the dish should meet these criteria but not burn the tongue.
“If it’s too hot, people won’t sense the harmonious taste of the ingredients and enjoy the dish,” Quốc said.
Bún bò Nam Bộ
The beef noodle soup of the south is made completely differently than in Huế.
In the southern region, the noodles are paired with a sauce which is both cool in temperature and non-spicy. Locals speak fondly of the simplicity and elegance of a dish which soothes the tongue in hot weather year-round.
The most important steps of making this dish are marinating the beef properly, making the sauce, and arranging the ingredients together perfectly. The beef should be marinated well in sugar, fish sauce and pepper and other seasonings before cooking.
Nguyễn Thị Phương, 60, the owner of Phương Bách restaurant at 67 Hàng Điếu Street in Hà Nội for almost 30 years now, said the dish satisfies the palates of southern people and pleases the stomachs of people of other regions and foreigners.
“The dish is comprised of different herbs and can be served cold. It is not too spicy, oily or greasy. People don’t tire of it, even when they eat it regularly,” she said.
“It took me many attempts to make the perfect sauce. The sauce is a harmony of sour, sweet and salty tastes.”
Assembling the dish requires a chef’s aesthetics.
Shredded lettuce is placed in a big bowl, then rice vermicelli, sliced cucumber, mint and bean sprouts. Beef, pickled carrot and papaya are added. The specialty sauce is poured on everything and the dish is topped with crushed grilled peanuts. Then it’s ready to eat. Just mix everything together and enjoy!
“The dish suits people of all ages well. There’s no fat involved. It’s just healthy, green and fresh,” said Phương.