100 years of Vietnamese rice noodles

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Huynh Tai Phuc (L) checks the quality of rice paper that will be cut into noodles. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE.VN
Hu tieu My Tho (My Tho rice noodles), which was recently listed among the top 100 dishes of Asia, has been making a name for itself in Vietnam, especially the southern region, for almost a century.
At first glance, a bowl of hu tieu My Tho, a specialty of My Tho Town in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang, is similar to the famous hu tieu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh rice noodle soup).
Rice noodles are served together or separately with broth, and topped with shrimp, pork – minced and sliced -- pig innards like liver and heart, and quail eggs. The food is garnished with chives, bean sprouts, and deep-fried shallots.
However, gourmets and My Tho’s older residents can easily point out differences that lie in the noodles and the broth.
Huynh Tai Phuc, 64, one of the town’s oldest rice noodle makers, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that hu tieu My Tho is famous because the noodles are made purely from rice flour, instead of being mixed with wheat flour or tapioca flour like its cousins.
They are naturally transparent, chewy, not salty or sour, and have the fragrance of rice, he said.
The broth is tasty and can be absorbed into the noodles without tampering with their texture, Phuc said.
“It is a failure if the broth fails to harmonize with the noodles, or the noodles become crumbled, or have a sour or salty taste.”
According to the newspaper, representatives of many local famous hu tieu eateries claimed that the product of Chin Xe factory, run by Phuc and his family, is one of the best.
In fact, the factory was founded by Phuc’s parents more than 70 years ago, and the recipe is still observed by his children who now run the place.
Except for the jobs of grounding rice into flour and cutting rice papers into noodles, the whole making process is done manually and by family members only.
Phuc said he did not mechanize the whole process like other places for fear that making rice noodles with machines will affect their quality, adding that the rice noodles that became famous years ago were made by hand.
“It is not that I can’t afford machines, but I want to retain what are considered the characteristics of hu tieu My Tho,” Phuc said.
According to Phuc, a decisive factor for producing good hu tieu is good rice that must have a high content of starch.
Then, to create desirable chewiness for the noodles, the maker has to adjust the fire’s heat when steaming the flour – the oven’s temperature must be at least 120 degrees Celsius, or the noodles will not become chewy and transparent, he said.
When cooked, the rice papers are wrapped around bamboo tubes before being spread on bamboo frames and dried under sunlight for about three hours. Finally the papers are cut into stripes.
The broth

A bowl of hu tieu My Tho. FILE PHOTO
Veteran rice noodle makers and the elderly in My Tho said that although the town now is home to almost 100 hu tieu eateries, only one or two stick to the original broth.
One of them is Quan Ky eatery on Ngo Quyen Street, Ward 1, which was founded more than 50 years ago and is very famous in the southern region, according to Tuoi Tre.
Dang My Huong, 49, the fourth successor of Quan Ky operators, said her family cooks the broth in accordance with a traditional recipe in which the soup is stewed with pig bones, meat and offal, dried shrimps and dried squid for two-three hours.
She said that every day she uses more than 20 kilograms of bones to cook a big pot of broth for around 100 bowls of hu tieu, adding that she has to keep removing foams produced by bones and other ingredients during the stewing process to make the broth clear.
Huong said she does not abuse sugar and sodium glutamate like many eateries, because it will create uncomfortable feeling in people’s throats when eating the broth.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Ngoc Minh, director of Tien Giang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told the newspaper that with hu tieu My Tho getting more famous, local authorities will organize classes to instruct eateries on how to make a good product to serve local people and tourists.

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