The Soup of Love

Discover the five elements of a balanced dish…

This delectable dish from central Vietnam sustained me through those fuzzy sleep-deprived mornings that newborns have such a knack for creating.

Darling Man (my husband) had found a Mì Quảng seller near our house in Binh Thanh District and every time we had a particularly horrendous night with the baby he would slip out before work and buy a takeaway serving of it for me to eat at my leisure for breakfast. Or for lunch, or even sometimes for afternoon tea if it was one of those kinds of days.

Before the baby was born I had never tasted Mì Quảng. It was a revelation, unlike any other Vietnamese dish I’d tried. It’s halfway between a soup and a noodle dish (because traditionally there was only enough broth to wet the noodles) and it has fresh mint in it, a flavor I’d rarely sampled in Vietnamese cuisine.

I like to think that Arab traders (used to mint-flavored savory dishes) may have had an influence on this dish, coming as it does from Quang Nam province, home of the ancient port of hoi An, one of the stops on the spice route between Asia, the Middle east and europe.

The other ingredients are easier to explain – pork, prawns, pork sausage, roasted peanuts, noodles and bean sprouts – all common ingredients in Vietnamese dishes. However, the dish deviates from the norm in its use of bright yellow noodles, colored and slightly flavored with turmeric.

The dish often features duck or fish cake, and always includes a bunch of greenery – usually shredded lettuce, banana blossom, mint, holy basil and bean sprouts. It’s then garnished with giant slabs of black sesame crackers, which give the soup some extra crunch.

The broth is also slightly different to other soups. It’s a peppery pork bone and dried shrimp broth, with an amazing orange undertone from the use of annatto seed oil.

In Vietnam, Mì Quảng is considered a celebratory dish, often served at family reunions. It’s considered a ‘balanced’ dish, made in accordance with the principal of the five elements. When it comes to cooking (and eating) those five are spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth).

Dishes are also supposed to appeal to the five senses and Mì Quảng does just that – pleasing the eye, the tongue, the nose and even the ears (all that noisy crunching from the bean sprouts and the rice crackers). The sense of touch doesn’t miss out either with all the different textures in the dish, from silky noodles to melt-in-the-mouth pork.

WHERE TO TRY MI QUANG IN HCMC

Sen Viet Quan Restaurant

(118 Truong Cong Dinh, Tan Binh). A local favorite run by four brothers and sisters from Hoi An features six versions of mi Quang with short ribs, shrimp or crab cakes (VND27,000- VND45,000). The noodles are fresh and specially made for them with ingredients from Quang Nam Province. The staff and cook speak English.

Quan Mon Hue 777

(165 Tran Nao, D2) does an authentic version with yellow noodles and sensational peppery broth.

Mi Quang Pho Thi

(50A Dinh Tien Hoang, D1 and 110 Cach Mang Thang Tam, D3) does a tasty mellow-but-not-yellow version of mi Quang. Try the Mì Quảng suon non tom thit (Quang noodles with pork rib and prawn) for VND42,000.

Mi Quang My Son

(38B Dinh Tien Hoang, D1 and 262 Phan Xich Long, Phu Nhuan) does a spicy version of mi Quang that’s heavy on the oil. Try the mi Quang tom thit (Quang noodles with prawn and pork) for VND42,000.

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