FEATURE: Handmade noodles keep Phu Chiem going strong
QUANG NAM, Vietnam (Viet Nam News/ANN) - In Vietnam villagers still preserve the process of making noodles by hand and hundreds of local vendors serve the dish in neighbouring provinces and cities.
The dish has gained fame and popularity, and was even served at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Summit in Da Nang and Hoi An in 2017.
Nguyen Tam, 73, spent many years making my Quang in his family kitchen and supplying ingredients for many of the vendors in Phu Chiem Village. He is now retired from the trade he had practised since the 1950s, and his daughter-in-law continues the family craft.
Noodle making helps bring in money to support the family, but crucially it also preserves the traditional spirit of the family in the face of rapid urbanisation in the village, where 300 households earn their living selling my Quang from stalls and producing the noodles in their homes.
“It’s really a tough job,” Tam says. “We saved every penny from selling noodles in the village to cover the cost of living. The noodles were handmade, and it took us all day for preparation including soaking rice in water and grinding the wet rice into liquid powder with a millstone.”
“The final stage of steaming the rice crepes and cutting them into noodles is always done at midnight so they are ready for delivery the next morning to restaurants and the market,” he says.
The old noodle maker says my Quang looks like pho (Hanoian rice noodles) but thicker (0.5cm), with two layers of rice powder.
My Quang is a popular and cheap snack for food lovers, and it can be eaten in the morning or afternoon.
Restaurants sell the dish at VND15,000 or VND20,000 (US$0.65 or $0.85) for a bowl, according to Tam.
The ingredients of the my Quang dish originally included chicken, herbs, grilled rice cakes, roasted peanuts and sliced banana flowers. But chefs can put their own spin on it by offering versions with snake-head fish, beef, frog or egg.
Tam’s daughter-in-law Nguyen Thi Le Chi, 34, says her popular home kitchen serving my Quang is called Be Xiu (or little Xiu, a childhood name) by villagers.
Chi says her noodles are popular because people know the family is one of the few that has preserved its original recipe.
“We still make my Quang according to our original recipe from the past,” Chi says. “Only the manual stone mortar was replaced by a motorised grinding machine for faster processing.”
She says local connoisseurs prefer the dish for breakfast and during the afternoon work break. My Quang stalls are among the most popular daily stops for villagers.
Chi believes the quality of handmade my Quang comes not only from the purity of the materials but also from the heart and mind of the craftspersons.
Phung Thi Duc, 60, was born in the village. She started cooking my Quang 35 years ago when she married a local man and opened a street vending stall in Da Nang. Over the years her mobile restaurant has moved to almost every corner of downtown Hai Chau District.
She begins preparing the dish each day at 2am in the village before catching the first bus to Da Nang.
“I cook the broth at home to carry it on the bus to serve the first customer around 6am," Duc says. "Not only me, but many women from the village take the bus ride or a bike 30km to Hoi An, Tam Ky or Da Nang."
“The my Quang stall helped me gain a stable income and my children were able to grow up on the money," she says. "The snack is quite cheap for most people for breakfast as it costs only VND20,000 per bowl."
Retired noodle chef Tam says people from the village also make cao lau noodles (another speciality of Quang Nam) for most of the cao lau restaurants and street vendors in Hoi An.
He says cao lau and my Quang noodles are both made of rice, but cao lau is also rolled from pastry with natural dye and dried with a stove.
Tran Tan Man, a chef in Hoi An, says my Quang, cao lau and cau mong (barbecue veal) are must-try dishes when visiting Quang Nam. They can be found at restaurants along the stretch of National Highway 1 that passes through Phu Chiem Village in the town of Dien Ban.
Aamir Ahmad Mohamad, a Singaporean businessman, says he has spent a long time living and working in Da Nang and Hue, and my Quang is still his favourite noodle dish.
“I have been eating it at least twice a week in Da Nang since 2008," says Mohamad. "To me, the dish is awesome and the taste is fantastic, one of the national culinary treasures."
“I decided to visit the place of origin of the my Quang dish in Quang Nam Province and the trip was interesting," he says. "The people were very hospitable, friendly and helpful."
“The my Quang dish consisted of rice noodles and had a lovely combination of very fresh ingredients," he recalls. "The topping consisted of shrimp and chicken; they had other options as well like pork and shrimp. Alongside the noodles I was served toasted sesame rice crackers, aromatic herbs, and lettuce. At the end of my meal I was served green tea."
“Overall, my experience having the famous my Quang where it originated was truly satisfying. In comparison with other cities, the dish was much more delicious there. The special aromatic flavour and distinctive aftertaste will certainly draw me back to My Quang Village in future whenever time permits.
“The my Quang noodle dish is a national treasure," Mohamad says. "I am sure foreign tourists visiting Vietnam would love it very much.”