A journal entry by Chef Nam
My love of noodles began when I was six years old, on a visit with my father to a small phở shop in Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm. Perched on a wooden bench, Considering my age, I wielded chopsticks and spoon with remarkable aplomb. As I worked my way to the bottom of the bowl, my father held his head high, while the owner marveled at his son’s advanced eating skills. My memory of that proud moment, and the heady broth, savory beef, and chewy-tender noodles, is one of the most vivid from my childhood.
In Vietnam’s culinary terms, noodle soups, are called món nước or “watery dishes.” If Vietnamese don’t eat them at breakfast, they have them for lunch or a snack. They are considered món phụ, or “secondary dishes,” and are never eaten as the main meal of the day, which is usually a multiple-dish dinner. In fact, when my father lived in Saigon, he sometimes went out for a late-evening bowl of phở even though he had eaten supper, explaining that the noodles settled his stomach before bedtime.
Theoretically, you can enjoy Vietnamese noodle dishes all day long, especially if you eat as folks do in Vietnam, in smallish portions that allow for sampling a wide variety of foods throughout the day. From a morning bowl of soup noodles, you might move on to a dry noodle dish (món khô) that features small round rice noodles (bún) and stir-fried beef or grilled pork or fish. In Vietnam, street-side vendors and restaurants often specialize in just one of these dry noodle dishes. At Vietnamese restaurants outside of Vietnam, these one-dish meals are often grouped under the heading bún, for vermicelli-sized rice noodles they use.
Stir-fried, pan-fried, or sautéed noodles are either grouped with the dry noodle dishes or are included in the broad category of stir-fried foods (món xào). In both cases, they differ from their soup and bún counterparts because they are normally included in multiple-dish meals, rather than eaten on their own. When you make them, you will also notice that they carry certain Chinese influence, such as the use of Chinese chives and egg noodles.