When Dave came to visit France for New Year’s, he brought a huge bag of rice noodles (the ones similar to pho noodles rather than the opaque vermicelli) that his aunt had sent to the US all the way from Vietnam. So we decided to make one of my favorite dishes to use them up: Phnom Penh Noodle Soup! It’s a classic in Cambodia where you (I) can eat it every day for breakfast. If you’ve never tried noodle soup for breakfast you should definitely give it a go, pretty addictive if you ask me.
This soup uses a clear pork broth* as its base. We also added some grilled dried cuttlefish for extra depth and umami. We then let it simmer for a while and went out for a little walk. Well, my dad was supposed to watch the soup while we were gone, and let’s just say he got a bit too engrossed in the activity he was doing at the time (watching soccer on TV?), so by the time we got back the broth was somewhat cloudy. My dad kept apologizing saying that it was all his fault. He has very high standards for food (much pickier than I am) and knows that a clear broth is the gold standard**, so he felt genuinely sorry.
We do take food very seriously in my family but in the end just laughed it off and still marched on with the cooking. We boiled the noodles (only for a few seconds as these were fresh), laddled the bowls with the broth, added shrimp, pork slices, some cilantro and chives, preserved cabbage and fried garlic (very important). The broth was flavorful and the noodles from Vietnam were magnificient, with just the right amount of chewiness. Good rice noodles are ones that won’t break apart in the hot soup but will also be soft with springy chewiness, if that makes sense. The best noodles I’ve ever eaten were in Phnom Penh but in terms of broth Paris has nothing to be ashamed of.
These noodles are called Koe-Tiau in my Chinese dialect (Teochew); the Cambodian and Vietnamese words being derived from that (Kuy Teav and Hu Tieu respectively). From what I know, the Chinese brought the noodles over to South-East Asia and from there different soup variations were created. There are many different kinds of koe tiau but the ones used for the Phnom Penh soup are always the long thin ones. Another similar soup is the Vietnamese Hu Tieu My Tho (My Tho is Dave’s birth town) in which clear glass noodles are used instead. I won’t risk boring you even more with all the subtle differences of all these noodle soups so I’ll refer you to Wikipedia (can you tell I love noodle soup?).
*Pork broth is not very common in American or French cooking to my knowledge, but is used often in Asian foods. Most of the soups that my mom used to make us were in fact pork-based.
**This broth is thus quite different from say a Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth which calls for a thick creamy consistency. Just goes to show how versatile pork can be.
Phnom Penh Noodle Soup (known in Vietnamese as Hu Tieu Nam Vang)
Eating this soup at my parents’ home made me so nostalgic that I vowed to make it again when I got back to the US. I used Korean cuttlefish that I grilled up on the stove since that’s all I could find at my local Asian grocery store. The soup (pictured above) was just as delicious!
I can’t really give you a recipe because I don’t have one. I’ve eaten this soup my whole life so I just know what it’s supposed to taste like. You’ll discover soon enough that I don’t really do recipes when it comes to Asian cooking. So instead I’ll give you a list of ingredients and some basic steps.
- Pork bones
- Dried cuttlefish/dried shrimp
- Whole onion, outer shell peeled
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Boiled shrimp
- Ground pork (I liked to pan fry it with some dried shrimp)
- Chives (green onions)
- Fried garlic
- Chinese preserved cabbage
- Other possible toppings include soy bean sprouts, lemon, liver, pork slices but I’m not a big fan so I omitted them
- And of course noodles (I almost forgot the main ingredient!!)
Parboil the pork bones by placing in a pot filled with water (cold or room temperature) and bringing to a boil. Clean the bones and the pot. Return the bones to the pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Add the onion. In the meantime, grill the cuttlefish (I actually just placed it in a pan on the stove) until very fragrant, then place in broth. Let broth simmer for a couple hours on very low heat. Watch carefully that it doesn’t get cloudy and scoop out the scum from time to time.
Prepare the toppings. Peel and clean the shrimp, by cutting lengthwise and deveining them. Cook in boiling water (shrimp cooks very fast, a minute or two should be enough). Season the ground pork with a bit of salt and pepper and pan fry so as to get little pieces of meat. If you like it, you can mash some dried shrimp (I use a mortar and pestle) and throw it in together with the ground pork for good measure. Mince a lot of garlic, I really mean it, A LOT of garlic, heat up a bit of oil and fry your garlic in there (it’s easier if you use a non-stick sauce pan). Clean your herbs and chop them.
When your broth has simmered a while, season with salt, fish sauce and a dash of soy sauce. If using fresh noodles, plunge them into boiling water for just a few seconds (usually 10-20 seconds) one portion at a time and place them in a big bowl. Add broth to cover, add all of the toppings and enjoy!
Ok I realize that my recipe is not very useful when there’s no measurements for ingredients. I mean yes you could end up with a competely different taste! But the problem is I don’t measure while I cook (as of yet) so I can only give you very vague instructions :-/ I guess if you really want to taste this, the best way is to order it at a restaurant, then we can make it together and then you can make it yourself :)