For 47 years Cambodian speciality remains popular with Saigon foodies

By Di Vy   April 30, 2019 | 04:16 pm GMT+7

It is a noodle dish that seems simple to make but has unexpected layers of complexity.

The owner said he gets most of the ingredients from Cambodia, especially the spices. Photo by VnExpress/Ai My

The owner said he gets most of the ingredients from Cambodia, especially the spices. Photo by VnExpress/Ai My

Prohoc noodles are known among Saigonese as num-bo-choc noodles or simply referred to as Cambodian fish noodles.

The dish first made its appearance in Saigon in the 1970s, with a small shop in Le Hong Phong Market in District 10 being one of the first places to sell it.

Ngo Van Hoa, 63, said the shop was opened by his father. "Two years after he returned to Vietnam from Cambodia, in 1972, our family’s life started to become more stable thanks to the business. My grandparents, my mother, Tu Xe, and now me, the third generation, have taken care of the restaurant."

Tu Xe, the name of the restaurant, comes up whenever Saigon foodies have a craving for the Cambodian soup.

The owner said he gets most of the ingredients from Cambodia, especially the spices.

"The key ingredients that give the dish its characteristic flavor is prohoc sauce (fish sauce made with beef), bamboo fruit and wormwood." 

For first-time eaters, it could be daunting because prohoc sauce has a strong odor. The dish seems simple but is very difficult to master. The main ingredients of the dish are copper snakehead fish and broth.

Adding herbs, spinach, banana leaf, and so on is strongly recommended for maximum enjoyment – and they must be raw.

Raw vegetables are served with the dish. Photo by VnExpress/Ai My

Raw vegetables are served with the dish. Photo by VnExpress/Ai My

A regular serving costs VND45,000 ($2). The fish must be a solid meaty snakehead piece, which will also be the centerpiece of the broth. What makes the broth rich is the combination of spices, including fresh turmeric which gives it its characteristic golden hue.

Every day Hoa and his family start their day at 4 a.m. with preparations for the restaurant. The fire is lit, an aroma wafts around the market from a pot of broth, enticing customers to come from 6 a.m. onwards. Customers sit at plastic tables and chairs like at many Saigon street food restaurants.

The owner said the recipe has remained the same for almost half a century. "If I change it, I will lose customers immediately." 

But now, by around 10 a.m. there is usually nothing left to sell.

 
 
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