The Vinh Trung rice noodle soup is named after a commune in Tinh Bien District, southern An Giang Province. The noodle is flat and small, unlike the large ones in other parts of Vietnam.
Commune residents believe the mother of this dish was a Khmer woman named Neang Oanh Na, who created it decades ago to cater to her own fondness for the taste of the Neang Nhen rice.
Her first version of the dish was a crayfish soup, which was later embellished with beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp, if the consumer requested it. The broth of this dish, made with steamed fish, pig bones, chicken bones and shrimp has an incredible aroma.
What makes the noodle very popular and special is that locally sourced, fresh meat complements every bowl. While the livestock farms are just around the corner in the Bay Nui area (Seven Mountains), shrimp comes from the Mekong River.
Neang Oanh Na’s aromatic noodles enticed many villagers to learn the recipe, and it developed into a regional specialty.
On the way from downtown Tinh Bien District towards Cambodian border, a host of Khmer rice noodle soup restaurants distract visitors from their destination with irresistible fragrance.
One particularly popular and enchanting place is the My Tien restaurant with its busy kitchen and cabinet full of meat. The 43-year-old woman who it is named after has been running this story since 1998 and piling on customers who return for more. She said her Vinh Trung noodle soup draws gourmets from near and far.
"We serve locals and travelers from other regions. There are foreigners from time to time as well,” Tien said.
Each bowl is a meat feast - pork chops, beef cakes, snakehead fish, shrimp and vegetables. The star of the dish is the beef meatball, which when cut in half reveals a pinkish brown color.
The order of placing the ingredients is also different from other noodle soups. The cook places the rice noodle at the bottom of bowl, follows it up with all kinds of meat and pours the broth at the very end with a pinch of scallions. The meat has no other dressing than Vietnamese fish sauce, adding maximum flavor to the soup.
Thach, My Tien’s son and chief assistant, said his parents do not hire employees other than family members.
"On busy days, we would ask our cousins to come and help,”
The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. A special order which comes with all toppings costs VND30,000 (US$1.30) while a bowl with a single topping costs VND20,000 (US$0.85).
Quang, a resident who lives near the restaurant, explained its popularity: "The noodle soup here is so tasty. I usually have it for breakfast, then after work if I’m too lazy to cook I will come here for another bowl. I don’t need anything else.”