Hu tieu is a rice noodle dish that made its way into Vietnam’s culinary catalogue via Cambodia, and before that, China.
It’s a popular dish in the southern parts of Vietnam owing to 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 once known as Prey Nokor.
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), 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 Saigon’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.
Here are some places with think you ought to try.
Hu Tieu Mien Tay
The taste here 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
Quan An So 1
What you get here is their version of hu tieu Nam Vang (see Quan An Tan Phu below). You can order an extra pork knuckle in soup to add to the mix so you can finish off some of the best bits in the bottom of the bowl.
Quan An So 1 is at 113 Street No. 1, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC
Quan Nhau Ba Lu
The pork cuts are clean and tender and for those who aren’t huge fans of rubbery pieces of liver or tongue bobbing up and down 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 your hu tieu journey.
Quan Nhau Ba Lu is at 162 Street No. 1, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC
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 best stop. Mr An was born in Cambodia in 1960 to a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother during the rule of Norodom Sihanouk.
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.
Quan An Tan Phu is at 14 Street No. 9, Tan Phu, District 7, HCMC
Quan An Hong Hung
Could it be that the closer you get to the beating heart of the local community (that is, the local market) the food just gets better and better?
In this case at least, it does.
Quan Hong Hung’s 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 such a winner in this part of the world.
Quan An Hong Hung is inside Tan My Market, District 7, HCMC
Words & photos by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon