From "The Beauty of Aqua", Chapter 7 "Everything can be said in food"
Over about the last two months I’d eaten over twenty different dishes, not including multiple varieties of the same, and enjoyed them all, but mì Quảng was different because it was an eclectic bowl of pure happiness and I was in love with this beautiful creation of the Province of Quảng Nam. As phở is to Hà Nội, mì Quảng is to Đà Nẵng.
Phở started life in the North and for most of its life that’s where it stayed but because of the war and soon after the Vietnamese diaspora to the West phở became known worldwide. Please don’t get me wrong, I’ll never turn down a good bowl of phở bò but my heart belongs to another.
A bowl of mì Quảng starts its life as a simple broth of fried garlic and tomatoes. Then pork belly is marinated in salt, pepper, shallots, turmeric and, of course, nước mắm. Shrimp is quickly caramelized in a hot pan with sugar and more nước mắm. After an appropriate time for the pork to marinate it’s pan-fried and added to the simmering stock pot with the shrimp where salt and even more nước mắm is added.
Unlike in the West where the ingredients get much of their flavors from the stock, the opposite is true with most of the flavors staying with the tasty bits in mì Quảng. The stock is also much stronger than its better known cousin from the North. Something the people of Đà Nẵng would say was true about both their beloved dish and their children.
Imagine you’re sitting on a little, plastic stool at your favorite mì Quảng food cart in the city patiently waiting for your bowl of soup on this peaceful, winter night. You look over to see the woman behind the cart adding a handful of broad rice noodles to your bowl then she scoops in the warm and fragrant pork and shrimp. She stirs her charcoal-heated pot a bit to clear a path for her ladle to go deep in the pot to get the warmest stock, which she does with skill, and pours it into your bowl. Finally it’s topped with a slice of hard-boiled duck egg, spring onion and crushed peanuts.
She hands you your bowl of warm soup and a plate of cool salad greens. Holding the bowl close to your face you breath in this soup of the gods. You smell garlic and, of course, nước mắm. The vapors warm your face and comforts you on this cool, late night. You put it down and prepare for your taste of heaven. The magic happens when you mix the fresh greens into your bowl. Everything is coated and warmed in the strong and fragrant broth yielding a very pleasant variety of textures and flavors. You take your first bite and forget time exists. Welcome to an everyday bowl of mì Quảng in the City of Đà Nẵng.
Life is not complete without once experiencing that special dish in that special city and this is why to me it’s the best food ever served in a bowl. Maybe that’s why I fell in love with my city by the sea. I knew after my first bowl of mì Quảng my life had once again changed.
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