Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Slurp du Jour: Bun Bo Hue at Ngoc Mai

Two earlier experiences with Bun Bo Hue, the characteristic noodle soup of Hue in Central Viet Nam, left me wanting more,  and as authentic as possibly can be found in San Francisco.  Some digging through reviews steered me to Ngoc Mai on Hyde Street, just south of Geary, in the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District. Ngoc Mai is a cheery hole-in-the-wall, brightly lit and spartan yet warm, its warmth abetted by the friendly service from the family that owns it. They are from Hue, and bun bo Hue is item number one on Ngoc Mai's menu. What could be more propitious?

My bowl (amusingly called "small") consisted of round bun noodles in a lemongrass, chile and fish sauce infused broth. [Note: The New York Time's style guide has decided that the proper spelling of "chili" is "chile," and who am I to argue?] Toppings included copious amounts of tender beef shank meat, chewy pork loaf and boneless thin slices of pig feet.  Veggies in the soup included onions and Vietnamese cilantro that I could suss out, and mint, lime slices and bean sprouts were served on the side. The noodles were surprisingly springy, more than I thought I could hope for, rivaling even wheat noodles for toothsomeness. (Perhaps that's an advantage of round versus flat rice noodles.)  With my first sip, the broth seemed only mildly spicy, but the chile chile heat intensified as the broth cooled and I ate my way deeper into it. Overall, the spice level was just right, to my taste.  Only a real chili-head (oh, there I go again)  would need to add pepper flakes or squirts of hot cock.

I don't have an authenticity meter calibrated for bun bo Hue, but am comfortable with the provenance of today's bowl of goodness.  It certainly seemed the most complex and different* bowl that I've tried to date.  If I have any complaint, it's that the cook gringo-ized it by omitting the pig's blood cubes that, according to reviews, are typically included in this restaurant.  I'll be back for more, and next time this guilao will insist that he doesn't need to be spared the pig's blood.

*A useful comparison of bun bo Hue and pho, and why bun bo Hue is not pho can be found in this excellent blog.

Where slurped: Ngoc Mai, 547 Hyde Street, San Francisco

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be moderated. Spam and unnecessarily abusive comments will be deleted.