Hu tieu is a rice noodle dish that made its way into Vietnam’s culinary catalogue via Cambodia, and before that, China.
Like all food, there’s an interesting history behind it.
It’s a popular dish in the southern parts of Vietnam, given the region’s large Cambodian diaspora living in and around Saigon and in the Mekong Delta.
In fact, current-day Saigon and the Mekong Delta were once part of the Khmer Empire. Saigon was known as Prey Nokor at the time.
In Saigon you’ll find hu tieu that varies slightly depending on the shop or stall owner’s origins.
In the city’s District 7, more commonly thought of as the Korean BBQ mecca, you’ll notice vendors offering hu tieu Nam Vang (known as kuy teav in Cambodia), hu tieu Sa Dec (a town southwest of Saigon) and hu tieu Mien Tay (a region west of Saigon), especially around and inside the local market, Tan My.
Typically, hu tieu consists of thin, chewy and compact rice noodles sitting at the bottom of a clear, savoury bowl of pork broth.
Added on top is some pork slices (sometimes a pork bone or knuckle), a shrimp, a quail egg, a small mysterious medley of offal with added chives and celery leaves and pieces.
To top it off, it’s often garnished with a small dollop of minced pork.
To the side, there’s always a plate of lettuce and bean sprouts to add as you go, as well as the ubiquitous lime pieces and chopped chili that grace the tabletops of every eatery throughout the nation, for extra taste and heat.
In and around District 7’s Tan My Market there are some fine hu tieu vendors you’ve probably never tried, so here are five of the best.
Hu Tieu Mien Tay
This wife and husband team run a small operation not far from Tan My Market along the “foodie” Street No. 1 and close to Pho Bo Ba Tap who we’ve already featured.
For VND35,000 you get plenty in a bowl to kickstart your morning. The taste is clean and fresh and quite “meaty” thanks to a healthy array of intestinal goodness for the discerning “offally” eater.
If you’re not into your tripe, no worries, just eat around it and slurp on the tasty soup it helps to enrich.
Hu Tieu Mien Tay is at 96 Street No.1, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Quan An So 1
Loosely translated as “Street 1 Eatery”, Quan An So 1 is located across the street from Hu Tieu Mien Tay and takes up a precious corner location at the T-intersection of the street.
What you’ll get here for VND30,000 is their version of hu tieu Nam Vang.
There’s not much difference in appearance and taste from the one across the street; if anything, it’s perhaps spicier here.
Order an extra pork knuckle in soup (VND15,000) to replenish your bowl so you can knock off what’s left at the bottom.
Quan An So 1 is at 113 Street No.1, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Quan Nhau Ba Lu
Quan Nhau Ba Lu’s VND30,000 version is decidedly lighter and less “meaty”.
The pork cuts are clean and tender and for those who aren’t huge fans of rubbery pieces of liver or tongue bobbing up in their soup from time-to-time, this place might just be the option for you.
But, alas, the downside is that when you take the guts (literally) out of a soup, well, it’s not going to be the A-grade version is it?
Consider this one the gateway version to a far more addictive hu tieu around the corner.
It’s still delicious though.
Quan Nhau Ba Lu is at 162 Street No.1, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Quan An Tan Phu
Run by a gentlemanly 59 year-old Mr An, Quan An Tan Phu serves up his version of hu tieu Nam Vang.
If you’re a stickler for authenticity, then this place is perhaps your next stop. Mr An was born in Cambodia in 1960 during the rule of Norodom Sihanouk to a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother.
His family subsequently fled to Vietnam in 1970, also fortuitously avoiding (somewhat) the tyranny of Pol Pot and the political instability and war that sadly defined Cambodia for decades after.
These days you can find Mr An lovingly cooking up his VND35,000 hu tieu on a relaxing and leafy street corner just a block or so from Tan My Market.
Quan An Tan Phu is at 14 Street No.9, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam
Quan Hong Hung
And we’ve left the best till last.
Quan Hong Hung is located inside Tan My Market among the food vendors at the southern side.
Could it be that the closer you get to the beating heart of the local community (the local market) the food just gets better and better?
In this case at least, it does.
Quan Hong Hung’s VND27,000 hu tieu is a cracker. It’s richer and more flavoursome than the rest and is jampacked with all the goodies that make this dish a winner in this part of the world.
Run by a tireless middle-aged lady with a husky voice who claims to be still 18 years old, Quan Hong Hung is the duck’s nuts (not sure if they’re in it, too).
Make a bee-line for this vendor whenever you’ve got a hankering for some of that awesome southern goodness.
Quan Hong Hung is located inside Tan My Market, District 7, HCMC, Vietnam