Nguyen Thi Diem Thuy, wife of Lo Hu Tieu Sau Hoai's owner Huynh Huu Hoai, cooks hu tieu chien (fried rice noodles) for tourists. The rice noodle maker's trademark dish has gained lots of foreign tourist fans. / PHOTO: PHU SA LOC
Situated on the banks of the Rau Ram canal about eight kilometers from Ninh Kieu District in Can Tho City, lo hu tieu Sau Hoai (Sau Hoai's rice noodle factory) has recently been added to the itineraries of many tourists.
Almost every day, between 5:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. groups of foreign backpackers arrive at the factory on vo lai (wooden boats operated with motors). They are soon followed by other groups who arrive on boats operated by tourist companies.
Vietnamese tourists, meanwhile, usually come around noon on motorbikes or boats.
It was estimated that hundreds of tourists visit the factory every day to learn about the technique of making hu tieu (rice noodles), eat several noodle dishes, visit fruit gardens, and buy handicraft items.
Most of foreign tourists come here right after visiting the famous Cai Rang floating market.
At the 5,000-square-meter factory, they visit a workshop where they can watch all the stages in making the noodles from washing, soaking, and husking rice to making thin sheets with starch, drying the sheets and cutting them into strips.
Huynh Ngoc Diep, Hoai's second son, who can speak English, French, and German, acts as a tour guide explaining all the processes to tourists.
The rice noodle produced by Hoai is the nationally famous hu tieu bot loc (tapioca rice noodles) which is chewy and transparent, compared to common hu tieu used in hu tieu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh rice noodle soup) and Chinese noodle soup dishes.
Hoai said he came to Sa Dec Town of Dong Thap Province, the noodle's birthplace, to learn the recipe many years ago. Now, his factory produces around 500 kilograms of noodles to supply customers restaurants and other eateries, and serve it to tourists right at the factory.
Tourists are offered a menu of hu tieu dishes which are priced VND30,000 (US$1.42) each.
Hu tieu nuoc (rice noodle soup) has its broth made from pig bones, dried shrimp and dried squid, and lean pork as the only topping. The simple dish is a breakfast staple in Vietnam's southern region.
Another dish is hu tieu xao in which the rice noodle is stir-fried and topped with seafood like shrimps and squids, pork, and vegetables.
Recently, Hoai and his family have introduced hu tieu chien, in which the rice noodle is arranged into a round cake and fried until it turns yellow and crispy and have invited tourists to eat it for free.
The dish can be served with simple toppings: shredded spring onion and chili sauce. Other topping options include coconut milk mixed with milk, pork slightly salted with spices, cha chien (fried Vietnamese pork roll), fennels, lettuces, and peanuts. This variety can be eaten with soya sauce or nuoc mam (fish sauce) mixed with vinegar or lime juice, sugar and chili.
The fried noodle, invented by Diep, has quickly won the heart of foreign tourists who dubbed it "pizza hu tieu".
Tourists can order takeaways of hu tieu chien at between VND30,000-40,000/piece.
When visiting Hoai's factory, tourists can also enjoy local fruit gardens, including those with century-old trees like sapodilla and a kind of small mango which turns orange when ripe.
The factory also has a collection of old items like a black and white TV and a rotary dial telephone.
A 2.5-meter bridge made from an areca trunk helps those who want to see how it feels when crossing a cau khi (literally translated as "monkey bridge") a self-made bridge made from a bamboo log with one handrail. The bridge is common in the Mekong Delta and is considered as one of the world's scariest bridges by many foreign tourists.
According to Hoai, tourists also love to buy bamboo handicraft items that he sells to help locals with disabilities.
LO HU TIEU SAU HOAI
476/14 Vong Cung Road, An Binh Ward, Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho City
Phone: 0918 214 234 (Mr. Hoai); 0908 148 835 (Ms. Thuy)
About two months ago, Hoai launched a home-stay service with six rooms, and plans to build another 14 rooms in the near future.
He said while he mainly collaborates with local travel companies, many tourists come after being recommended by their friends or some tour guide websites.
Foreign tourists, including American, Chinese, French, Japanese, and Korean, usually visit between July and April, while Vietnamese typically visit during the summer, he said.
During the peak season, they receive 300-400 guests a day, and this goes down to several dozens during the off season.
Hoai said that he does not set a fixed entrance fee, but places a box at the eatery so tourists can donate whatever they think his services deserve.
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