Friday , May 24 2024

A Saigon noodle shop with an 80-year-old Chinese recipe

The To Ky noodle shop serves a unique dish of sacha sauce noodles made with a family recipe that has been passed down for three generations, and that includes 30 ingredients.

The shop at No. 156 Gia Phu Street, District 6 was founded by To My Doanh’s grandfather, To Cam, who came to Vietnam from Chaozhou, China, in the 1940s. Doanh, 42, learned the craft from her father and has been running the shop for more than 20 years.

The signature dish of the shop is beef sacha sauce noodle soup, which requires a lot of preparation. Doanh wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to get fresh ingredients and prepare them. “This dish is very hard and challenging to cook,” she said. “I can’t do it by myself.”

Doanh explained that everyone in the family helps out, from picking vegetables, to cutting meat, and making dipping sauces.

A bowl of beef sacha sauce noodles at To Ky. Photo by VnExpress/ Yen Nhi

A bowl of beef sacha sauce noodles at To Ky. Photo by VnExpress/ Yen Nhi

A bowl of sacha sauce noodle soup contains more than 30 kinds of ingredients and spices, such as peanuts, chili, galangal, onions, lemongrass, garlic, Chinese vinegar, dried shrimp, and Chinese herbs. The broth has a rich and spicy flavor that stimulates the taste buds. The coconut milk adds a creamy and fragrant touch to the dish.

When a customer places an order, Doanh first cooks the beef and noodles in the soup, before adding the seasonings, and then she pours the broth over contents. A bowl costs VND72,000 ($3.07) and comes with beef, beef meatballs, beef tripe, and a plate of basil, bean sprouts, lettuce, coriander and cucumber. The noodles are eaten with two kinds of sauces: soy sauce and vinegar. Doanh said this way of eating was invented by her grandfather, as most other places only use soy sauce.

“The sauces are homemade,” she said. “The vinegar is made by Chaozhou people and the soy sauce is our own recipe.”

The To Ky Shop is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. The peak time is around 5 p.m., when many people come for dinner or to order takeout after work.

“Sometimes when we are about to close, regular customers call and say they are on their way, asking me to wait a bit,” Doanh said. “I try to accommodate them, so sometimes we don’t finish until 8 p.m. But I’m happy and grateful, because they still support me even though they have to travel far.”

Having run the shop for two decades, Doanh believes that business must be done with one’s heart, without focusing on short-term profits, in order to build up loyalty among customers. Her wish is to continue preserving the family’s traditional sacha sauce noodle soup, and pass it on to her descendants, as a way of keeping the Chinese cuisine alive in Saigon.

To My Doanh, the owner of To Ky noodle shop, prepares a serving of sacha sauce noodle soup. Photo by VnExpress/ Yen Nhi

To My Doanh, the owner of To Ky noodle shop, prepares a serving of sacha sauce noodle soup. Photo by VnExpress/ Yen Nhi

Phung Thi Ngoc Han, 20, came to the restaurant for the first time after hearing about it from a friend. She was curious about the unusual noodle dish.

“The broth is rich, flavorful and aromatic, with a distinctive taste of Chinese traditional medicine,” she said. “The meat is fresh, both tender and chewy, and goes well with the spicy, sweet and sour vinegar sauce.”

Han said she plans to come back again.

In addition to Doanh’s shop, there are three other places that serve sacha sauce noodle soup that are run by her relatives. They are on Go Cong Street in District 5, Chu Van An Street in District 6 and Pham Van Chi Street in District 6. All four shops share the same family recipe from To Cam, but each one has a slightly different taste according to personal preferences.

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