Why you should care
Because this is what you eat in central Vietnam.
When I taught English in Danang, every morning I’d join the masses for a 5 a.m. beach walk and a swim in the always-warm waters of the East Sea (call it the South China Sea at your peril), followed by a tall glass of treacly iced coffee with a kick like a cheesed-off Vietnamese donkey. But the best part of the morning awaited at the local market: a bowl of mì quảng, the dish that “could be every Danang resident’s breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says my friend and ex-colleague, Nhi Thi Thuy Thach.
To the Western mind, the core ingredients in mì quảng are probably the wide, flat rice noodles and the protein, which can be chicken, catfish, beef, shrimp, pork belly or — nowadays — even frog. But this overlooks the intense chicken broth laced with củ nén (similar to garlic), turmeric and homemade peanut oil. Not to mention the abundant toppings, which include quail eggs, herbs, banana blossom, roasted peanuts, chili jam and shards of rice cracker. There’s a surprise in every mouthful of mì quảng, which is always served lukewarm (great for those hot days) and is never more than knee-deep in broth (any more and your taste buds would keel over).
So cool that it’s even got its “own damn song.”
The dish’s roots are tied to the economic history of Quảng Nam province. Too poor to afford the beef bones and copious firewood needed to make the slow-boiled broth that defines phở, local peasants turned to the region’s scrawny, malnourished “runner” chickens for a fast and furious broth packed with flavor. For centuries, mì quảng (“quảng noodles”) was simply what people in Quảng Nam ate. But the gamy intensity of the broth and the touches of local genius (a good one “is served with special basil and green chili from Tra Que vegetable village in Hoi An,” says Nhi definitively), have seen mì quảng become sought after — cool, even — throughout Vietnam and beyond.
So cool that it’s even got its “own damn song.” In 2014, expat English teachers Jake Schofield and Ashlin Aronin and their local buddy Phan Ngọc Hảo created a toe-tapping ode that proclaimed — somewhat nostalgically for me — “every day for breakfast, I wanna eat mì quảng.” The video went viral, but with suggestive lines such as “no dawdlin’ or doodlin,’ I get right to noodlin’” and “I’d swallow her soup, but she tied the knot,” I wasn’t sure what locals would make of it. I shouldn’t have worried: “We like it because it shows how much expats like our food,” says Nhi, adding that teachers still play the song in class a lot.
One thing she can’t get her head around, however: The new-fangled mì quảng ếch, (frog mì quảng), which she finds “quite disgusting.” When it comes to what’s actually in the bowl, Nhi is a staunch traditionalist: The protein should be a combination of pork, shrimp and eggs and homemade is always best — with “lots of chili!” If time is short, however, grab a bowl at a local market stall. “In tourist restaurants, they add too much meat,” she warns.
And she should know.
GET SOME: MÌ QUẢNG
- To market, to market. Pick up a bowl at Bắc Mỹ An Market, my old haunt, for around 20,000VND ($1).
- Everyone’s favorite. Mì Quảng 1A is the one brick-and-mortar establishment all Danangers can agree on. Get your fix for 35,000VND ($1.50).
- What the ếch? Mì Quảng Ếch Bếp Trang – owned by a local beauty queen – is the go-to spot for trendy, deconstructed frog mì quảng (55,000VND, $2.50).
- On the side. Depending on the time of day, mì quảng works as a treat with freshly squeezed sugarcane juice (10,000VND, 50 cents) or an ice-cold Larue beer.