Every once and a while, a dish comes along in Saigon that’s so good, it eats up a whole alleyway.
That’s certainly the case at my new favorite Quang Nam noodle spot, which is hidden in a sea of schoolchildren.
To find the place, you’ll have to duck into the narrow alley that begins at number 12 and navigate the stuffed eaters mounting their bikes to begin a slow ride home under a web of Christmas lights.
You’ll t know you’ve found the place when you smell fish in the air or catch sight of the small white sign placed at the top of the parked bikes that reads bánh canh cá lóc.
No flower, no stink, no fresh basket of laundry could ever compete with the briny steam emerging from the pots, which bubble all day and flood the alley with customers around three.
For a decade, a Quang Nam family has served the thick square noodles in a broth that smacks of the sea—a red herring, of sorts, since the fish itself thrives in swamps and puddles.
The white Quang Nam rice noodles are more substantial and less chewy than the gooey transparent tapioca variety of the same name. They play nicely with the few chunks of stewed fish that give the soup (and the alley) its flavor.
A spoonful of the house’s dried chili flakes and an extra bowl of chopped green onions send the whole thing into a nosedripping, soultingling overdrive..
In the same way that the noodles will dominate your day (you probably won’t want to eat again) they seem to dominate the alley.
Mounds of spent banana leaves (peeled from bánh lộc shrimp and tapioca dumplings) and napkins soiled by customer drool stack up like floodwater.
None of the neighbors complain or even try to compete.
Everyone in the alley appears to have resigned to living like planets in a solar system of this soup.
One home, across the way, serves, fulltime, as an open dining room. Another sells sugar cane juice to cool the chili burned, salt parched mouths of the mob.
You can sit at your stool for quite a while before anyone gets the idea to take your order. So you’d better speak up. Also, it’s not a bad idea to order an extra side of fish. Just in case.
Address: 12/5 Pham Van Hai St.,
Tan Binh District Price: One bowl VND20,000
Hours: 3:30-6:30 p.m.