Chinese-style noodles kept in wooden drawers are considered an indication of authenticity, an attraction to Saigon gourmets.
Placed in wooden drawers prior to serving keeps the noodles fresh and chewy thanks to moderate humidity and ventilation.
Typical Chinese-style noodle vendor carts in Saigon are covered in red or dark brown paint and made of wood. They are decorated with glass mirrors with Chinese characters painted on to their surfaces. An array of drawers store fresh batches of noodles.
Lac Vinh Cham, 38, the third generation owner of a 60-year-old family noodle cart on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street of Binh Thanh District, said this method of storing noodles was passed down from his grandfather and father. Noodle drawers are installed just within reach of the seller for convenience.
Not having enough people to make noodles like in the past, Cham orders fresh noodles, and when they arrive in plastic bags he immediately removes them and put them in the wooden drawers of the cart.
“If the noodles stay in plastic bags for a long time, they will become soggy and broken,” he said.
A vendor cart with many drawers to store noodles in Saigon. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.
Wooden vendor carts selling Chinese-style noodles used to be located on sidewalks along the streets, some keeping to fixed positions. Nowadays, many old noodle brands in Saigon have built spacious eateries but still retain their old noodle carts to serve as kitchens.
Vendors usually make noodles right on the spot, only boiling them once customers arrive.
The traditional Chinese noodles are made from eggs, flour and lye water. Chefs knead the dough carefully, roll it out then use a machine or their hands to cut them into thin strings. Each restaurant or manufacturing facility has their own recipe.
Minh Hoa, the owner of Chan Phong Restaurant, has made and sold noodles for decades at 182-184 Ton Dan Street, District 4. The 61-year-old boss stressed using the ratio of 8 eggs to 1 kg of flour, instead of 2-4 eggs as usual, to give the noodles more color and flavor.
Wonton noodles at Chan Phong Restaurant. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy.
Ha Quang, a 70-year-old man of Chinese descent in District 5, said: “Having eaten at many noodle shops, I only remember a few addresses where noodles are delicious, soft, unbroken and can satisfy both adults and children.”
Some places for noodles lovers to try are A Phun noodle cart (Alley 30, Nguyen Canh Chan Street, District 1), Madam Xuan (20A Ky Dong Street, District 3), and Chan Phong (182-184 Ton Dan Street, District 4).
There are not many people or establishments specializing in building traditional wooden noodle vendor carts left, although it is not difficult to see an old vendor selling noodles and some Chinese dishes in Saigon.
These Chinese-style noodle vendor carts in Saigon, whether sophisticated or simple, have been doing their job for at least a lifetime.