Tuesday, 11/12/2018 09:35

Phở vịt quay comes down to Hà Nội

Local market: In the northern mountains, the marketplace is always where the best food is served, including pho.— VNS Photo Doan Tung
Viet Nam News

By Nguyen My Ha

Pho can be credited as the most popular soup in Viet Nam. You may have tried beef or chicken noodle soup in any city or sizeable town across the country. But pho vit quay, or roasted duck noodle soup, has appeased the taste buds of Hanoians over the past decade.

After first starting at specialty restaurants in the suburbs, duck dishes have made their way into the heart of Ha Noi: the Old Quarter.

If you go into the area, it is hard to miss this special roasted duck noodle soup at the crossroads of Hang Thiec (Tin Street) and Hang Non (Conical Hat Street). Affordably priced at VND30,000 (US$1.30) a bowl, you can opt for more meat for VND40,000.

Marinated: Roasted duck soaked in mac mat leaves, Lang Son style. - VNS Photo Truong Vi

The food is quite good with flavorful broth cooked from duck bones and crucial pho spices like roasted ginger, star anise, cinnamon and black cardamom.

If you prefer better seating options, Vit Quay To Thi in a townhouse on Mai Hac De Street could be your best bet.

Many outlets across the city sell roasted ducks, and there is a famed duck raising village with very popular charcoal-roasted ducks called Van Dinh in the surburban Ha Tay region.

But only roasted duck from Lang Son can be made into pho.

Fragrant: The secret to the broth is roasted ginger, cinnamon and black cardamom. - VNS Photo Truong Vi

Some restaurants advertise their ducks as roasted according to secret recipe from Chinese chefs, who usually keep it a tight family secret. Having tried Cantonese roasted duck, it is easy to tell the Lang Son ducks may be a variation of the world famous Chinese version.

But if you look further into the ingredients and roasting methods, you soon realise the difference.

Five spices are used in the marinade for Cantonese ducks, and it is important to boil the bird in the sauce to cook it and soak up the seasoning. Some restaurants even say they keep the marinating sauce for some dozens of years. The roasting process is only to give the bird’s skin the final glaze and crispy texture.

The essential mac mat leaves are the key to a Lang Son style roasted duck.

Spicy sides: Dishes accompanying duck pho must include fresh sweet basil and spicy pickled bamboo. - VNS Photo Truong Vi

Grown in the northeastern provinces of Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Lang Son, Tuyen Quang, Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen and Quang Ninh, the leaves and fruits of this lemon-family tree are known for adding flavours to roasted dishes. They survive only in these provinces. If transplanted to other climate conditions, the trees cannot survive, or else the leaves do not produce the desired flavour.

A popular cooking website recommends 22 dishes to be roasted and stir-fried with mac mat leaves. In Tay – Nung language, mac mat is a sweet fruit which gives a special tangy flavour to the pickled bamboo of the greater northern mountainous regions.

The oil in the leaves can not only be a cooking spice, but it can also be distilled to make traditional medicine. Mac mat leaves and roots can also be used as herbal medicine and for cooking purposes.

Winter treat: When the cold wind sweeps through the delta, a piping hot bowl of pho is a must. - VNS Photo Truong Vi

If you travel to the mountainous provinces of Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Tuyen Quang and Lang Son, you will have a chance to try pho with roasted meat like pork belly or sausage. People there have had the roasted pork or duck pho for a long time.

Dang Ngoc Anh, 27, founder of Vit Quay To Thi, said, “Mac mat leaves are the ingredient that defines the difference between the roasted ducks of Lang Son in Viet Nam and those from Guangdong or Peking. In Lang Son, the leaves are added to all things roasted: pork, ducks and birds.”

Geographically, Guangdong is located on the same latitude as the northern provinces of Viet Nam. In Vietnamese the Cantonese ducks are called Vit Quay Quang Dong, or roasted duck Guangdong style.

Ngoc Anh is an architect by training, but he chose to start with his Vit Quay To Thi brand with two restaurants in Ha Noi.

Perfect mix: duck pho is hot, sour and fatty. - VNS Photo Truong Vi

Many food enthusiasts have argued about the origins of pho, saying the beef noodle soup originated from Nam Dinh Province. Another writer even gave the iconic soup an an exact age of 100 years old. He wrote that pho originally derived from poached buffalo meat that wood traders used to have at the Red River Wharf. But this theory provided only the source of the meat. What about the flat rice noodles, the essential part of a bowl of pho?

I suggest the source of pho may go further upstream. In the southern provinces of China they also eat flat noodles with meat, but the noodles are made from wheat flour.

In Viet Nam, pho noodles are made from rice. They are made by steaming pancakes, the same way banh cuon – a popular dish of steamed rice rolls stuffed with chopped pork and mushrooms – is made.

Roasted: An eatery in Lang Son selling roasted duck pho along with chicken pho. — VNS Photo Doan Tung

“I have not looked deeper into the origins of the roasted duck pho, but I know that pho was born a long time ago, and roasted ducks were also eaten many years ago,” Anh said. “Combining the two together, I know it has been eaten for 30 years.”

Pho with roasted duck usually has rich and fatty broth because in Lang Son, the winter can become quite cold with temperatures below zero. To balance out the fatty broth, a side dish of purple basil (hung que) and spicy pickled bamboo with mac mat fruit is a must. This dish is never found in beef or chicken pho shops.

As part of the tradition of having pho with roasted meat, pho with roasted duck can be the highlight of this type of dish.

Any great food will eventually find its way downhill to Ha Noi. — VNS

Hanoi version: Vit Quay To Thi offers roasted duck and pho, Lang Son style. - VNS Photo Truong Vi


Pho Vit Quay: 73 Hang Thiec, Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi

No telephone available

Vit Quay To thi 60 Mai Hac De St., 310 Thai Ha St. for booking call: 1900-6044

Vit quay quan Lang

50LK6A, Nguyen Van Loc, Lang Viet kieu Chau Au, Ha Dong, Ha Noi

Tel. 097 979 71 91


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