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Noodling Around

By Adam Kuban
February 1, 2007

We asked a handful of Asian noodle freaks about their favorites—what was the best bowlful they'd eaten in the last year, where they got it, and why it was so delicious. Here are their answers. With a recipe from New York City's David Chang, a young chef on the rise known for creating his own killer noodle dishes. Dig in—slurping is encouraged!


DAVID CHANG | chef and owner Momofuku
I can’t get enough of the soy sauce chow mein at Congee Bowery (207 Bowery, New York NY 10002; 212-766-2828). It’s very similar to the street food in Hong Kong. The dish is so simple and so delicious. I think it’s just onions and celery stir-fried in oil and soy sauce. The result is noodles that are a little bit crisp and tender but not overcooked. For me, it’s the best cheap lunch in New York right now at $5.95.


GRAHAM HOLLIDAY | noodlepie.com
One noodle dish? Just one? You're asking a lot. After almost a decade living in Vietnam I have many favourites, from the simplicity of the pork noodle soup, banh canh, to the hodgepodge ingredient freakout bun rieu and the heavily Chinese influenced mi hoanh thanh. Nailing one noodle dish as Vietnam's finest is a near impossible task, so let me quote myself from a year ago when I pondered this very same question:

"If I was banged up in Bellmarsh taking a shower and three 200 lb. sweaty, tattooed bitches had my legs spread, neck held in a fist vice, one side of my face melded to ceramic wall tiles, and the threat of an afternoon at the ragged end of the prison meat train very real and rather imminent. If I found myself in such a spot of bother and was then asked what my favourite Vietnamese noodle soup was, I’d have to own up and say, bun mam."

Bun mam is a freak. It shouldn't work. A thick brown, earthy soup powered with prawn paste, packed with seafood, roasted fatty pork, aubergines, thick bun noodles, and garlic chives and served with a formidable crunchy herb hedgerow. Vietnamese prawn paste, or mam tom, is the skunk of the skullery. No question about it, the stuff reeks. It's a total room clearer. But it's a room clearer with magical properties. A dollop of mam tom in a bowl of bun mam is akin to slotting a V8 engine into a clapped out Mini Cooper—jet-powered propulsion for the taste buds.

Bun mam is one of the lesser known Vietnamese noodle soups both inside and outside Vietnam. It's nowhere near as ubiquitous as pho, hu tieu, bun rieu or canh bun. However, it is, I'll wager, the most distinctive, salty, and complex tasting noodle soup in the vast Vietnamese culinary canon and one of the best in all Asia.

Ba` Sa'u has been serving her bun mam for 26 years from a knee-high stall at Cho Hoa Hung, 45 Hoa Hung Street, P12 Q10, Saigon, Vietnam. Only on Saturdays and Sundays. Get there before 9:30 a.m.


ANDREA HARNER | andreaharner.com
While New York City is able to boast that it has more than a handful of Asian noodle restaurants, there is really only one truly authentic, deeply delicious place for noodles south of 14th Street (I only claim to be a "South of 14th Street New York noodle expert.") The soba at SobaKoh (309 East 5th Street, New York NY 10003; 212-254-2244) is handmade and homemade—if you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the zen process of soba being rolled and cut. The divine broth contains the requisite ingredients of fish (unseen, just subtly tasted) and a dash of orange peel and will make you feel like a bottomless broth pit. All the soba dishes are great, but my preference is for hot soba topped with either tempura (on the side to keep the tempura fresh and crisp), agetofu (fresh tofu lightly fried), or, for even lighter fare, kinoko (mushrooms). In summer, the cold soba dishes are a great choice. The dipping sauce is bona fide, as is the service they provide of pouring the soba-yu (water used to boil the noodles) into the leftover dipping sauce, which you drink to complete the unforgettable meal.


DAVID CHANG'S GINGER SCALLION NOODLES
This is a simple recipe for noodles that I like a lot. And it's vegetarian! Of course it doesn't have to be—you could add roast pork. Add the sauce to any noodle dish—lo mein, mei fun, Shanghai thick noodles—and cook 'til done, do not cool down noodles; toss hot noodles immediately into the ginger scallion sauce.

Ingredients
6 ounces finely minced fresh ginger
5 bunches finely chopped scallion
1 tablespoon salt
1/8 cup soy sauce
8 ounces grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Procedure
Mix all items well, and reserve for noodles. Add 6 tablespoons of sauce to a bowl, toss hot noodles into bowl, and mix. Serve.

13 Comments

I agree! Sobakoh is really good.

On the other hand, David Chang, no! Congee Bowery has gone way down in standards, and is now downright bad. I'm beginning to understand why I am underwhelmed by all of David Chang's restaurants--his taste buds and mine do not agree.

But perhaps I should try David Chang's recipe before I give him the beat-down...though having eaten at Momofuku (thrice) and Ssam, I am prepared to give my opinion. Will acknowledge that his upscale cha siu baos are good.

Graham, Bun Mam! That is a pungent bowl of noodles.

I prefer Bun Cha. It's more basic and to the point but I could eat it everyday, and nearly did when I was in Hanoi.

David, I don't know you but I read the profile of you in NY Mag. I just moved to NYC but will be swinging by your restaurants soon. Asian Burritos! It's like god answered my prayers. Also, have you ever been to Vietnam? Want an innovative idea for a restaurant? Email me.

Honmura An for cold soba topped with uni. Doesn't get any better.-guttergourmet

Mmm. Honmura An is good. I also used to like Menchanko-tei when I worked in Midtown.

Robert Sietsema said Super Taste on Eldridge might be the best noodles of your life, but that was a year ago. I went last year and they really are delicious!

guttergour: I've never been to Honmura An but cold soba topped with uni sounds right up my alley.

I did a podcast with David Chang right before Momofuku Ssam Bar opened. You might want to have a listen, he's a very interesting guy.

http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2006/08/23/podcast-9-david-chang/

And some photos I took at Momofuku:

http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2006/05/12/nyc-dining-momofuku/

Honmura An is the mother of the noodle houses in NYC (except for in Chinatown) but get there while you can. The owner is actually moving back to Japan so they will close in about a month....

NSW, well I had to quote myself in the prison context to nail it down to one noodle dish. Bun cha, unquestionably, is top of the heap for Hanoiophiles like you and I. But taken as a nation, Bun mam pips it in the noodle dish stakes. Although, and somewhat paradoxicaly, if I was asked what is the best Vietnamese dish, I'd have to say Bun cha. Although best southern Vietnamese dish is banh trang phoi suong.

This article recently inspired me to make my own noodles:

http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/using-your-noodle/

I cannot get enough of the Dan Dan Noodle soup at Kar Won on the UES.
http://tinyurl.com/2abns6

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