I had no idea how to pronounce this one so I just pointed to the sign on the wall inside a typical fan cooled joint called Quan 100 at 100 Nguyen Van Lac in Binh Thanh District. The young girl trying to take my order had me repeat after her “hwan ton.” I thought I said it correctly but evidently not to her ears. Though I was pointing right to “mì hoành thánh” with my index finger, this girl wasn’t budging. Mama overheard this entire exchange and wandered over and looked at me up and down. She squinted her eyes as I tried again to pronounce my order. Do they not see I am pointing right to what I want? Why all the theatrics?
Funny thing is even though I was saying “hwan ton” I had no idea at the time what I was trying to order. I was so distracted by the frustration that bubbles up from time to time here in Vietnam. Of course in retrospect these two words should have tipped me off as to what was in store, but I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
I must have finally pronounced things to their discerning satisfaction since a bowl of clear broth with wontons, wheat noodles and what I swear was wilted lettuce arrived. I still hadn’t put two and two together that hoành thánh meant wonton since I was distracted by a very self conscious awareness fomented by a crowd gathering around me. Clarity as to what hoành thánh meant wouldn’t come until about two hours later when all of a sudden the lightbulb in my head turned on in full blaze.
The broth has that vague familiarity I just couldn’t place. This exact taste had crossed my path before a few times yet never with wontons floating around. Without giving it much thought I continued eating under the careful watch of everyone around me still amazed that I was able to hold chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other. Seriously, I just don’t get what is so fascinating about an American dude eating soup. I mean seriously. If I saw a Vietnamese person in Taco Bell I would just tell myself that’s weird and get on with my business. Staring and pointing would never occur to me.
Some hot pepper infused vinegar added not so subtle heat and an herb reminding me of Italian parsley brought in some earthiness. My surroundings added quite a bit of uniqueness. Right outside the restaurant five streets merge together in a fusion of chaos, and this neighborhood just flows right on past in one loud teeming sea of honking motorbikes.
So I got to thinking even more where have I tasted this stuff. Again, just as with the words for hoành thánh not registering right away, several hours would pass until I realized this was a variation of hu tiêu soups. We’ve sampled a seafood one in Phan Thiet and a pretty amazing Phnom Phen version in Saigon. Now one of my new favorites is this pork stuffed wonton concoction.
Best of all I was actually able to consume the entire bowl without leaving behind an insidious trail of entrails, skin and fat. You just don’t even know what a wonderful feeling this is to be able to eat an entire meal without picking around all the nastiness. I can’t wait to eat this one again!