Among the myriad restaurants and stalls in Ho Chi Minh City selling Vietnamese staples like pho, bun bo Hue and mi quang are places selling out-and-out Chinese dishes, a legacy of the long shared history of the two countries, and the presence of a million-strong ethnic Chinese minority. One dish in particular is mi hoanh thanh.
Mi hoanh thanh is a wonton noodle soup that’s Cantonese in origin, but can now be found in variations across Southeast Asia. Here in Ho Chi Minh City, the dish is prepared with steamed wontons of pork that sit in a hot broth with egg noodles, garnished with leafy vegetables, chopped spring onion and coriander.
There are quite a few places in Districts 1 and 3 to go for this dish, but a friend suggested Hung Ky Mi Gia on Le Anh Xuan in District 1, which is just off Le Thanh Ton, close to the New World Hotel. The place offers authentic Hong Kong cuisine, and has been doing it without falter for 16 years.
At first the eatery seemed quite clinical — a bright, fluorescent rectangle with whitish tiles, metal tables and chairs, and a garish flower painted on the back wall. Six fans droned in unison and the quiet chatter of a few patrons floated around the room.
Yet there was charm. Every employee was smiling and the customers looked happy and relaxed. Steam rose from the kitchen to the left and the hearty aromas enticed. Sometimes it’s easy to mistake functionality with lack of character.
The food came hot and fast, and no time was wasted adding the recommended soy and chilli paste to the brimming bowl. The wontons were biggish and slippery, and took some cunning and skill with the chopsticks to eat with the noodles and vegetables.
The flavours and textures came through; the seasoned pork in the soft wonton hit first, then the fresh cut of vegetables, onion and coriander, and finally the salty starch of the egg noodles to round it off.
After a few questions it appeared that mi hoanh thanh, although popular among Vietnamese, isn’t that well known in the expat community. That’s a pity, because it’s an excellent lunch or breakfast choice for a dreary day that’ll fill you up, keep you warm, and is full of those sensuous flavours typical of the cuisine in this country.
Hung Ky Mi Gia is at 36 on Le Anh Xuan, Q1, HCMC. A bowl of mi hoanh thanh is VND65,000