Just around the corner from Hanoi’s West Lake and one of its many temples is a no name sidewalk soup joint on Quang Thanh Street in front of Alley 194. Tiny plastic stools and tables line a concrete wall with a food cart and cauldron holding the morning’s bounty. Though I couldn’t pursuade my friend Allie to dive into this one, a bowl of meatball soup called bún mọc was calling my name.
Rice noodles the same thickness and texture of spaghetti float around in a clear yellow broth tasting faintly of onion and meat bones. A helping of thinly sliced green onions and cilantro add some herbal tanginess that mixes well with a sprinkle of black pepper and juice from tiny sour green oranges the size of large grapes.
Soft meatballs with slivers of shitake mushrooms and spices rolled into the pork are the stars of this soup I am glad to have randomly discovered. These pig based balls really are good enough that I will recreate them at home. Actually if we drain the broth and retain the meatballs and noodles, this could be an amazing Italian dish were some pasta sauce to be added.
Foodies all across the globe will cringe at this admission but I actually like the Campbell’s canned version of Italian wedding soup tasting suspiciously close to this bún mọc. At least I know once I head back to the US an almost similar substitution is available on the quick and easy. Now what remains not so quick and easy was the frustration of paying for breakfast.
I handed Money Man a 50,000 Dong note, and he unilaterally elected to keep the change. A bowl of street food soup should never cost this much. That’s almost double the going rate. How do you say, “Oh hell no” in Vietnamese? I need to learn. Swirling around in my head were a few f bombs and the not so nice word for the anatomical region upon which you are most likely sitting. I stared at him again, and he just smiled.
I’m thinking to myself we’re going to back this thing up and try driving it down a different road this time. In Vietnamese I told him, “50? No. Too much.” He brazenly repeated 50 even as he took 30,000 Dong from the woman in front of me. I told him again in Vietnamese too much and he then slumped forward and closed his eyes trying to look all sad and defeated. Trust me; these little charades have zero effect on me. He finally handed me back 20,000 in change while saying, “ok, ok, ok, ok.”
As a side note, if this soup sounds familiar, yes it is. Meal #137 was a bowl of bún mọc served in Saigon which was nothing like the real deal here in the north. Processed meatballs much like we’d find in the frozen section of the grocery store along with slices of a bologna like pork make the Saigon version a far cry from this authentic sidewalk pork noodle soup. In the end this Hanoian bún mọc was really good, and I avoided getting ripped off. That’s a successful breakfast in my book.