Pho is peerless among Vietnamese noodle dishes and is much loved globally. Not surprisingly it is a go-to comfort food for both locals and foreigners living in Vietnam. However, another comfort-giving noodle dish running a close second is mi hoanh thanh or wonton noodles.
First appearing in Vietnam in the 1930s courtesy of immigrants from Guangdong, mi hoanh thanh gradually made its way around Vietnam. Sold by Chinese street peddlers, who made their presence known by beating bamboo sticks against each other, the dish became adapted to local tastes. It even got two versions of the same name — mi hoanh thanh down south and my van than in Hanoi.
The Saigon Version
Down south the broth was sweetened and the key ingredient, the wonton dumplings, were filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp. The broth was also only lightly flavoured so that vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce and chilli could be added to taste. A local version of char sieu roasted pork (xa xiu) was added to the dish and the mi noodles were cooked fresh. The final dish was served up with spring onion stalks and in some cases, fresh coriander.
After eating this dish for breakfast and lunch on two consecutive days, it is clear why it can be found in almost every city and province in Vietnam. It may be less popular than pho, but it is equally satisfying. So satisfying that it’s easy to finish a bowl or even two in a single sitting.
Each eatery or restaurant has its own version of this dish. Some serve fried wonton with the noodles, while some serve the wonton steamed. Yet in all cases the sweet-savoury roasted slices of pork appear on top.
Hu Tieu Mi Hoanh Thanh 44
44 Le Quoc Hung, Q4
This eatery, as its name suggests, serves up hu tieu and mi hoanh thanh and, found along a residential area in District 4, is a crowd favourite. It is only open for breakfast and lunch, from 6am to 1pm. Each bowl is served with a plate of quay breadsticks, which you pay for only if eaten, otherwise they are left for the next person. Surprisingly, lunchtime isn’t too busy here.
The place is simple. It’s a home turned into an eatery. Stainless steel tables and chairs are spread out on the ground and first floors; spilling out onto the pavement as well. The menu is posted on the wall of the ground floor. Diners are kept cool with ceiling fans and the occasional breeze; something quite rare during Ho Chi Minh City’s warmer months.
Shell out around VND30,000 to VND60,000 for a bowl of either their hu tieu or mi hoanh thanh to start your day or to fill you up for your afternoon activities.
Hu Tiu Nam Vang Thuy Dung
H19-2P Parkview, Dang Duc Thuat, Phu My Hung, Q7
A Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurant on the ground floor of Parkview apartments satisfies hungry office workers in Phu My Hung. Aside from the usual Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes, it also serves mi hoanh thanh. Diners are given dumplings or ha kao prior to the main order being served. For these additional bites, you only pay for what you consume. You can politely ask the servers to put it back in the kitchen right away if you’re not interested.
Thuy Dung is an open space eatery. Diners have a choice of eating inside or on the sidewalk. Each table has a tray filled with condiments to tweak the flavour of their dishes to your liking. A bowl of their mi hoanh thanh is priced at VND48,000 and it is served with a plate of beansprouts and greens. The wonton is quite small, but tasty, and the soup has a mix of sweet and savoury flavours. Initially, the serving seems small but after downing a glass of tra da, it does fill you up. Pay VND2,000 for an extra glass of tra da.
PHOTOS BY BAO ZOAN