Vietnamese Noodle Soups

One of the delights of traveling anywhere in the world is sampling the cuisine. As a vegan, this delight occasionally turns into a challenge, albeit a delicious and surmountable one. Vietnam, with its tradition of vegetarian cuisine, was one of my favorite countries to eat in, and nothing got me geared up (snicker!) for a day of cycling like a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.

Pho in Quy Nhon. Pho is the classic Vietnamese noodle soup. It's made from thick flat rice noodles, beef (or mock beef in my case), and is served with a heaping side plate of herbs, including basil, mint, lettuce, fish mint, and lime wedges.

Mien is made from clear cassava vermicelli noodles.

Bun from Quang Ngai. Bun is a rice vermicelli soup in an acidic, light broth. As you can see, it, like Pho, is served with a side plate of herbs which are then added to the hot soup. Some people only add a few leaves, but I preferred to scoop the whole plateful into my soup.

An exceptionally citrusy and refreshing bowl of Bun Hue from Hoi An. I first sampled noodle soups outside the tourist center of Hoi An in a small Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant which had more in common with a garage than a Western restaurant. For 10,000 VND, or about $0.50 USD, noodle soups made the perfect energizing brekkie for a long day of cycling.

The Hoi An specialty, Cao Lau. Features rustic, square wheat noodles and water from a specific well in Hoi An. The noodles are pleasingly toothsome and the soup is topped with crispy fried noodles as well as the usual (though always vendor-selected) range of fresh herbs.

My first bowl of Pho Bo! A perfectly balanced revelation. The broth is made hours ahead of time then kept on low heat the whole day, while the noodles are cooked to order. This makes the assembly truly fast, as flash-cooked noodles are carefully topped with a ladleful of broth, bits of meat (or faux meat), bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. Condiments like sugar, hot peppers in vinegar, crushed peppers, and sometimes MSG are placed on each table so every customer can customize and create his perfect bowl.

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