Now I am thoroughly confused. Mì xào. Two simple monosyllabic words even I can pronounce. Mee saooowa. See…simple. Now what is not so simple is trying to determine what mì xào actually is as it seems to be fully open to interpretation. Let’s recap. Mì xào in America was noodles deep fried into crunchy cakes. Then mì xào in my neighborhood is more or less thin and soft vermicelli noodles served at outside air temperature with grilled meats, fried tofu and soy sauce.
Mì xào in the north is a whole different animal. Actually an entirely different animal tops this one. Whereas sweetly marinated pork products make up my breakfast lady’s normal noodle fare in Saigon, Quac Tuan at 190 Yen Phu Street in Hanoi uses meat culled from what is presumably a cow. One can never be so sure as emaciated water buffalos lurk out there in the rice paddies as well.
But in any case, beef in Vietnam is usually a tough, sinewy, gristle packed affair. The stir fried cow strips with this breakfast mì xào did little to dispel this stereotype. It’s like you chew and chew and chew. Then you chew some more and the whole process succumbs to futility with a napkin held up to your mouth to collect the offending mass. Now that I think about it, this is no ordinary chew. A fancier word is in order indeed to describe the energy expended in this jaw numbing experience. How about “masticate?” Yeah, that’s a better description.
The meal is served hot straight from the wok in which ramen type yellow noodles have swirled round and round with sour bok choy, tart onion and sweet tomatoes in a heart clogging dose of grease. If you can hear the snap, crackle and pop coming from the kitchen, just imagine what your arteries will be saying in a few minutes. OK…here’s a comparison you can probably relate to…it tastes like the Special Lo Mein at a food court Chinese takeaway booth.
My Saigon breakfast lady’s mì xào is silky soft rice threads much like a nice pasta but the Hanoi noodles are thicker, more texturized strings of wheat based flour much like ordinary spaghetti. Liberal amounts of hot sauce bring the Hanoi version up to snuff though as it tastes only of salt and meat otherwise, and I enjoyed it just fine once it was doctored up. Of all three variants, breakfast lady’s street food dollar delight in a bowl still reigns supreme.