Wednesday , May 31 2023

A Teochew eatery has been serving square-shaped noodles for more than 60 years

Foodies in Ho Chi Minh City have been enjoying a unique square noodle dish with pork intestines and pickles at a small eatery for the past 68 years.

Located in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 8, the noodle shop serves an unusual Chinese-style square noodle called hu tieu ho.

Do Khiem, 58, the owner of the shop on Dinh Hoa Street, is the second generation to carry on the business, which was established by his father.

The small eatery is constantly packed in the morning, especially on weekends. Khiem says that the business first opened in 1955 in the Ba Can Bridge area, which is now near the Kim Bien Market in District 6. The eatery was later relocated to Phong Phu Street in District 8, before finally settling down at its current location, where it has remained for almost 10 years.

Do Khiem wakes up at 4 a.m. everyday to prepare the ingredients before he opens the doors. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Tran

Do Khiem (L) wakes up at 4 a.m. every day to prepare the ingredients before he opens the doors. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Hu tieu ho is a Teochew noodle dish that was imported to Vietnam from China. The name comes from the original cooking method, which is to add a little tapioca flour to the broth while also adding the noodles, and then let them simmer together. The soup will then have the consistency of “ho,” which is glue. Others say that the name “ho” comes from the Chinese provinces of Ho Bac (Hebei in Chinese), or Ho Nam (Hunan).

The noodles are not what we are normally used to. They are actually pieces of rice flour cake, which is somewhat similar to rice rolls. The rice flour cake is made thicker and is cut into squares of about 3 to 4 centimeters. “This type of noodle is not typical, and is rarely sold in the market,” said Khiem. “I order about 20 kilograms of this noodle every day from a regular merchant.”

This cuisine is also different from the usual hu tieu in that it is only served with pork intestines and pickled mustard greens. In some places, common toppings such as pork, chicken and seafood are substituted with blood jelly and fried dough. The seller said that while other noodle dishes are often served with raw vegetables and beansprouts, the Teochew people eat this dish with pickles to minimize the fattiness of the flavor.

According to Khiem, in Cho Lon, Vietnam’s largest Chinatown, there are usually two methods for cooking this dish. The traditional method is to thicken the broth by cooking it with tapioca starch after the noodles have already been immersed in the soup. Pork intestines are also completely cooked in the broth. Many customers are unfamiliar with the thick soup and the taste of pickles and stewed pig intestines.

The noodles have a square shape and are blanched once customers place an order. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Tran

The noodles have a square shape and are blanched once customers place an order. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The second cooking style is the one that Khiem’s restaurant uses, which is to use a clear broth without adding tapioca flour. The pork intestines are only added to the noodle bowl when a customer places the order. To prevent the noodles from getting mushy, they are blanched in hot water and then put in a dish. The hot broth is then added, followed by the scallions. This method is quite similar to how many common noodle dishes are prepared.

Khiem’s family gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to make the soup and prepare the pork intestines. The pig bone broth takes roughly two hours to cook. The pork intestines are carefully cleaned to remove their distinct odor. The pickles and satay are made in accordance with the restaurant’s own recipe.

A bowl of noodle soup costs VND55,000 ($2.33), with toppings such as slices of pork intestines, liver, tripe, tongue and a piece of blood jelly. The pickles are served in a small cup. Diners can make their own sauce however they like by mixing sacha sauce with soy sauce and red vinegar. For VND80,000, you can get a special bowl with more noodles, side dishes, or a portion of pig bones. Other Teochew delicacies available at the restaurant include satay noodle soup and dry noodles. Similar to hu tieu ho, these meals have pork intestine toppings.

This small shop of 70 square meters is also where the family lives. The restaurant can serve up to 50 guests. The cooking area is right at the entrance and customers can see a pot of broth placed right here, with a separate basket for noodles, and side dishes placed inside a glass cabinet. The restaurant has six servers who both cook and serve. The food comes out quite quickly, as it takes roughly three minutes for the dish to be prepared.

The noodles are served with pickled mustard greens and homemade satay. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Tran

The noodles are served with pickled mustard greens and homemade satay. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Tran

For more than 20 years, Chau Chi Hung’s family has come here a few times a month to have breakfast. Without even asking, the cook often makes him a bowl with mixed toppings as usual. “It is prepared similarly to other noodle places, except the noodles here are thinner and less mushy,” said Hung, 60. “The soup is perfectly seasoned, and the pork intestines are tender rather than chewy.”

Manh Dung, 28, has been coming to this place for over a year and frequently orders a bowl of noodle soup without the liver. According to Dung, the restaurant is roomy and offers friendly service. And while a bowl of noodles fills him up, he says the price is a little high compared to many other noodle shops.

The business is open from 6 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., although it occasionally shuts earlier. Early in the morning, it is frequently crowded. Every day, the business sells between 170 and 200 bowls of noodle soup.

The eatery is easy to spot because it has a large sign and is right on the main street. Another great thing is that it offers free parking.

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