Some streetfood dishes are tasty, while others are on another planet, such as mi quang. Words by Nick Ross. Photos by Zoe Osborne

 

If you’ve spent long enough in Vietnam and have developed a taste for street food, then every time you leave the country you’ll find yourself missing something. With me it’s mi quang.

 

When I first came to Vietnam, the country wasn’t known for its cuisine. Even Lonely Planet didn’t have much to say that was positive. According to their 1999 edition, the closest Vietnam had to a national dish was spring rolls.

 

It was around that time, late in 2000, that I first tried mi quang. I hated it. The sauce was too fishy, the shrimp too stale, and there was something rancid about the overall taste. It had just arrived in Saigon from Central Vietnam together with the now ubiquitous bun bo Hue and bun thit nuong. For some reason the Saigonese didn’t get it right.

 

Today, the national dish is that speciality coming from Nam Dinh, pho bo. Even Lonely Planet knows that one. And as for my own favourite streetside fix of flavour, mi quang has wow factor written all over it.

 

Around Town

 

With this article in mind I tried mi quang at four different eateries. Every place has its own take on this dish that was bought to Quang Nam by Chinese settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The essential ingredients are pork (usually ribs), peanuts, chopped spring onions, cha or pork sausage, boiled quail egg, shrimp and thick-cut noodles that resemble the Chinese char kway teow you find in Penang, Malaysia.

 

On the side is a sesame rice cracker or two and a plate of fresh herbs, beansprouts and grated banana bud. But key is the sauce. It must be spicy, lukewarm, slightly fishy tasting, and there must be enough to cover the noodles but not too much to make the dish into a soup.

 

The most disappointing version was also the most expensive. Disappointing only because the variation created by Café Terrace (VND110,000) got the sauce wrong. It still tasted moreish, but for me, the sauce is everything.

 

Mi Quang My Son, the chain eatery that does 10 variations or so on the dish (VND51,000 a bowl), was also disappointing. Despite adding chilli and lime, their rendition lacked both the flavour and punch I usually associate with mi quang. Maybe I was there on an off-day.

 

Mon Hue, however, the chain restaurant that has brought central Vietnamese cuisine to just about every urban corner of Vietnam, has a take on the dish that is as good as most of the variations you find on the street (VND60,000 a bowl). It’s consistent, too. I tried their mi quang at three of their restaurants — Thao Dien, Hai Ba Trung and Huynh Thuc Khang. The key was the sauce. Thin with brown globules of fat and flavour floating on its surface with just about enough fish sauce to provide taste, but not too much to overpower. The shrimp they add, however, is tasteless and dry. I never eat it.

 

The nameless Bun Bo and Mi Quang joint next to the pagoda on Quoc Huong in Thao Dien doesn’t do the quail egg (An Hoa Pagoda, 42 Quoc Huong, Q2, HCMC). However, the sauce is just about perfect and instead of ribs, they use standard pork meat. At VND25,000 a bowl, it’s also one of the cheapest versions you’ll find and I can’t get enough of it. The only problem is that every morning they run out by 8am.

 

Viral

 

A few years ago a spate of songs about Vietnamese cuisine went viral on YouTube. Ironic, amusing yet expressing a love for everyday Vietnamese cuisine, the best known was The Pho Song.

 

In response two expats and a Vietnamese friend living in Danang decided to add their own rendition to the mix, The Mi Quang Song. Put together by 100 Ky, Hao and Linh, the song is sung in both Vietnamese and English, with quips and quirks along the way. Here’s how it goes:

 

You what up co, ya already know

Let me get mot to of that mi quang, yo

And extra quail eggs to make me strong, yo

And no girls around so let that nuoc mam flow!

And then comes the chorus.

Everyday for breakfast,

I wanna eat mi quang

Everyday for breakfast,

I wanna eat mi quang

 

Having eaten so much of this dish, I tend to agree.

Nick Ross

Chief editor and co-founder of Word Vietnam, Nick Ross was born in the humble city of London before moving to the less humble climes of Vietnam. His wanderings have taken him to definitely not enough corners of the globe, but being a constant optimist, he still has hopes.

Website: twitter.com/nickrossvietnam

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