Monday, June 25, 2012

Slurp du Jour: Hu Tieu Nam Vang at Ha Nam Ninh

My search for a new noodle thrill today took me to Ha Nam Ninh, a nonsdescript Tenderloin hole-in-the-wall on Jones Street for hu tieu Nam Vang.  According to cookbook author Andrea Nguyen's Viet World Kitchen blog, hu tieu Nam Vang is "a Cambodian-Chinese concoction that the Vietnamese 'borrowed' and then made their own. Nam Vang is the Viet word for Phnom Penh, and the southern part of Vietnam has deep Khmer roots." 

Ha Nam Minh's menu lists Hu Tieu as "Chicken Broth & Combination Soup," and, according to blogger Nguyen "combination" is the operative word here: the noodles can be tapioca noodles, rice noodles or wheat noodles, and there is a wide variety of potential toppings.  For the hu tieu Nam Vang, Ha Nam Minh's menu promises "shrimp, fish cake, slices of pork, ground pork, chicken." Mine had all that plus cuttlefish and, I seem to recall, fried onion. 

Hu tieu can be ordered as soup, or, optionally "dry style," i.e. with the soup on the side (think lo mein)All of the buzz about the hu tieu Nam Vang at Ha Nam Ninh on Yelp was about the "dry" version, so I ordered it that way.  My order came on four pieces of crockery: a bowl of pho-style rice noodles with its generous toppings, a plate of the requisite garnishes, a small bowl of a vinegar/soy sauce mixture for dipping and a bowl of chicken broth. In addition, the waiter placed a small jar of chile paste suggestively close to the setup.  The "dry style" approach proved to have its rewards.  The setup allows the eater to conduct a symphony of flavors, textures and mouthfeels, tasting noodles and morsels of toppings naked, dipped in the sauce without or with chile paste added, splashed with broth, etc.  The "dry" approach also ensures more transparency about the freshness of the ingredients, and fresh they were.

Overall, the hu tieu Nam Vang noodles served dry at Ha Nam Ninh amounted to one of the most satisfying bowl of noodles I have had in a while; add to that the bright cleanliness of the place (belying its drab exterior) and the friendly service, and it's a place I will gladly return to.

Where slurped: Ha Nam Ninh, 337 Jones Street, San Francico

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