The photo here shows a man enjoying a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast in the early morning business of Ho Chi Minh City. I did take my own photo at home but it just doesn’t cut it.
There are as many variations on Noodle Soup across the world as there are types of cheese in France. The vast continent of China has raised a population of billions on the stuff; Vietnam fought wars and defended the country fuelled by its goodness. From Mongolia to Tibet, and more recently from Brussels to Dublin, steaming, fulfilling Noodle soup can be found to satisfy even the most man-size hunger. I wax lyrical about this dish as it is so much more than that. Where else in one bowl will you get protein, in the meat or fish, carbohydrate in the noodles, vitamins and minerals in the bean sprouts, herbs and garlic, all topped off with wonderful warming broth?
Noodle soup is the original fast food. In Vietnam a tiny soup kitchen, no more than a hole in the wall, plays host to a busy woman and her stockpot, bubbling away with a secret recipe. When you order your bowl of Pho (as the Vietnamese call it), the soup mistress takes some fresh noodles from a large pile; these are placed quickly in a basket and heated in a steaming pot of water. The hot noodles are moved to your soup bowl and topped with shreds of meat, the meat used to make the soup stock of course. Little specialties of the house, or an extra seasoning is thrown in and the whole lot doused in the piping hot liquid. At your tiny table will be chop sticks, chili sauce, fish sauce and a plate piled high with Vietnamese basil, mint, coriander, bean sprouts and red onions to pile on as you wish. Pho fuels the nation and no two bowls are the same. On a recent trip to Hanoi our hosts brought us across town to a famous pho shop teeming with hungry locals. The owner, a stern looking woman with tight smile and a sharp tongue shouted abuse at one of the waitresses, nobody batted an eyelid.
I’ve read that chicken soup is good for the soul, I don’t know where that comes from but it soothes and nourishes just when you need it in winter months like this. After several attempts at fast versions from trendy cook books I have finally come up with my own adaptation. It is inspired by the famous Hainan Chicken Rice method for the chicken but it works well for the noodles too. Sorry in advance to any purists. This great for the whole family as you can enjoy it plain or embellished with fragrant toppings.
Chicken Noodle Soup
You will need
1 very large pot, big enough to take a whole chicken plus extra
1 chicken, the size is up to you, preferably organic
2 cloves garlic peeled
4 coin size slices of fresh ginger
Water, at least 4 litres
Noodles, any kind
Soy sauce to serve
Fresh bean sprouts, sliced chilies, spring onions, mint, coriander all this is up to you
Skin the chicken whole, if you don’t want to do this ask the butcher to do it for you
Place the chicken in the pot and cover with cold water, add the other ingredients and bring to a boil
As soon as it is boiling turn the heat down to so that the water is barely bubbling, leave it cook like this for an hour. A quickly boiled stock will result in a cloudy looking liquid and a slow cooked one will give you a lovely clear result. The chicken will be meltingly tender and moist if you cook it like this
Let the chicken cool in the pot for at least and hour (you can easily do all this the day before you want to eat it) then return it to the heat.
In another pot cook your noodles according to the pack instructions
Pile the fresh herbs into a plate and put in the centre of the table for people to help themselves
Divide the noodles between the bowls, top with some chicken and ladle over the hot stock, top with your chosen accompaniments and season with soy sauce.
For a Vietnamese variation use fish sauce and limejuice instead of soy sauce. The possibilities are endless. Leftover chicken and stock can be kept in the fridge for up to two days