Wandering about looking for lunch, I saw a few Vietnamese diners enjoying a beautiful looking seafood soup with thick brownish noodles. I decided to stop for a bowl.
This little street food place appeared to be a 2 woman operation, one assembling bowls of soup and the other serving and collecting money.
The soup lady gestured to plates she had under glass and said seafood. I nodded. She added a few ingredients to the bowl. I’m guessing but I’d say they were crab, freshwater mud crab paste, small dried shrimps she had reconstituted, and a pork ball. Then in went the veggies, the noodles and finally the broth.
The server showed me with a gesture condiments to add to the soup. I squeezed in a calamansi, added a few hot chillies, some garlic with vinegar and a judicious amount of the super-charged, pungent fermented shrimp paste popular with some dishes in this town. About this ingredient, the instructor at the cooking school had commented, “usually not for tourists”.
The soup proved to be a complex, nuanced concoction with various tastes coming to the fore from mouthful to mouthful. It was simply out of this world.
I tried asking the name of the soup, but I was unable to get across what I wanted to know. Back at my hotel, I showed the staff a picture of the soup and told them where I got it and they gave me the name. The particular thick noodles are called banh da. When I looked them up I found out they are a specialty of Hai Phong. The unusual colour is attained from a certain red fruit.