A tour organizer believes a food stand in the Mekong Delta city of Sa Dec serves up the best ‘hu tieu’ in all of Southeast Asia.
‘Hu tieu’ is the Vietnamese name for a noodle soup made with rice noodles, pork stock, and other toppings, popular in southern Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Singapore, and Thailand, though the recipe may differ by country.
Nguyen Van My, a tour operator who has traveled to ten Southeast Asian countries, praised a ‘hu tieu’ shophouse he dined at in Sa Dec City in Dong Thap Province as the best across the region.
My’s criteria consisted of two categories – for the 'hu tieu' to take the top spot it had to be “cheap and delicious at the same time.” He noted that some restaurants might serve more delicious food at a higher price and vice versa.
In the 1950s, 'hu tieu' was sold on just about every corner in Saigon.
Everyone from big fancy restaurants to small portable street stalls was serving bowls of the steamy noodles, typically filled with pork, pig innards, chicken, or venison. Broth was either included or set aside, depending on the style.
“I have tasted all imaginable styles of 'hu tieu' and, though each person might enjoy a different type of ‘hu tieu’ depending on their appetite and personal preference, Ba Sam’s stall in Sa Dec City serves the cheapest and most delicious bowl I have ever tried,” My wrote to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Nguyen Van My (in black) exits Ba Sam’s 'hu tieu' stall in Sa Dec City, Dong Thap Province. Photo: By courtesy of Nguyen Van My
According to My, the shop’s history began in 1968, when a Chinese-Vietnamese woman, nicknamed Ba Sam (Lady Sam), started running a 'hu tieu' business out of her house on Tran Hung Dao Street in Sa Dec.
The stall gained traction among local diners for its cheap price and good quality. The business has since been passed on to her daughter and granddaughter.
Since the stall’s inception, My wrote, Ba Sam has always reminded her successors to keep in mind such simple yet effective business philosophies as “profit from hard work,” “serve the working class,” “be honest and attentive,” “make just enough,” and others.
To prepare for a day of business, the family wakes up at the crack of dawn to ensure they will have time to stew the broth for one hour with a host of ingredients including bones, dried squid, and pork. Everything is fresh and supplied by the same merchants that have worked with the shop for many years.
Dinh Xuan Linh, granddaughter of Ba Sam, slices the pork to serve diners at Ba Sam’s 'hu tieu' stall in Sa Dec City, Dong Thap Province. Photo: By courtesy of Nguyen Van My
Even with inflation having hit most of the country, Ba Sam has not let the economy affect the way her business is run. In fact, a bowl of Ba Sam’s 'hu tieu' still costs what it did ten years ago - VND6,000 (US$0.27) for a regular bowl and VND10,000 ($0.45) for a special bowl. Extra meat only costs VND1,000 ($0.04).
My said the quality of Ba Sam’s 'hu tieu' is a far cry from its deceptive price and people from all over the country flock to the stall throughout the year for a taste of the dish.
The broth of the 'hu tieu,' My described, has a sense of natural sweetness from the bones and the dried squid, the meat is tender and fragrant, and the noodle is typical of Sa Dec.
The 20m2 shop opens from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm and is only attended by four family members, each with a seemingly permanent smile.
“I’m addicted to its rustic bustle, its idyllic smell of labor, and its Sa Dec-ish taste of a sentimental countryside. Just imagine slurping a bowl of Ba Sam’s 'hu tieu,' sweating like a dog and contemplating unique business philosophies,” My wrote. “Those are experiences you don’t get at school or when traveling to a foreign country.”
Watch Gordon Ramsay preparing a bowl of 'hu tieu' during his trip to the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam: