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Authentic Vietnamese recipes from the Motherland

Fried Pork Fat (Tép Mỡ)

The last time I made fried pork fat (tép mỡ), it almost costed me an eye. I didn't remove the skin from the fat and coincidentally learned that small bits of pork skin explode in hot oil. Dodging hot oil splatters was no fun and the mess that was left in the kitchen ... I almost cried.

Why was I frying up pork fat? If you have ever visited a well-loved Chinese egg noodle soup venue in the heart of Chinatown, you will notice that they take great pride in their noodle soups (and not so much their customer service). You put up with the verbal abuse because their noodle soups are simply amazing. And what makes it amazing is the detail in the little components that make up the noodle soup. One of which is the fried pork that tops each bowl. It's this simple addition that elevates the noodle soup to the next level of awesome.

If you are lucky enough to have an Asian supermarket around you, you may be able to get free pork fat from the butcher in the back. If not, you can use fat from a big slab of pork belly or gather up pork fat from pork trimmings.

You can fry pork fat in advance and keep them in an air tight container at room temperature for a couple of days or months in the fridge. Before using, toast them up quickly or give them a quick blanch in hot oil. Fried pork fat, the Vietnamese equivalent of bacon bits, is a great addition to any noodle soups and it is what makes the world go round.

Egg noodle soup topped with pork fried fat (tep mo)

Egg noodle soup topped with pork fried fat (tep mo)

Vietnamese Fried Pork Fat Recipe (Tép Mỡ)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pork fat

Instructions

  1. Cut the pork fat into 1/4-inch cubes.
  2. Add the pork fat directly into a dry pan or wok. Oil will render out from the pork fat as they crisp up. Occasionally stir to prevent burning from the bottom. Be patient as the pork fat might take anywhere from 7-10 minutes to crisp up and turn golden brown.
  3. Once golden brown, transfer the pork fat with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to remove excess oil. Spread out fried pork fat evenly to dry.

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Soup with Wontons (Mì Hoành Thánh)

While growing up, like many first-generation immigrants, my parents were constantly working, trying to make ends meet. During the hectic school and work week, we had simple family-cooked dinners that they quickly threw together in the evening after work. Some nights when they were working late, dinners were literally thrown together.

Noodle soups were usually reserved for the weekend when there was more time. Even then, the noodles soups were very simple, made with store-bought chicken stock and ready-made rotisserie chicken. There was nothing fancy. Maybe green onions for garnish but that was pretty much it. I loved those simple egg noodle soups. I always slurped up the last strand of noodle and drank up the last drop of broth, despite the simplicity. Fast forward many years later when I met my mother-in-law. She introduced me to Vietnamese Egg Noodle Soup with Wontons (Mì Hoành Thánh). Mind. Blown.

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh) with shrimp, fish balls and garlic chives

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh) with shrimp, fish balls and garlic chives

My mother-in-law would spend the entire day putting Mì Hoành Thánh together. Not only does she make the broth completely from scratch with chicken and pork bones, she also assembles each individual wonton, makes Chinese/Vietnamese Barbecue Pork, preps all the vegetables and makes the fried shallots herself when she can easily get them at the grocery store. And all that pork fat from meat trimmings that she stockpiled in her deep-freezer for, what one would assume, zombie apocalypse? She finally takes them out and fries them into crispy pork fat (Tép Mỡ) as a crunchy topping to dress the noodle soup.

Once you take a sip of the broth, you can taste all the hard work that she put into it. The taste is truly magical. It's flavorful and well-rounded. It was this very dish that made me realize that I had so much more to learn and that you can't really half-ass perfection. With that said, if you want to make her recipe (recipe below), do reserve a full day of cooking. And always, always be thankful for the mom or mother-in-law who spends countless hours in the kitchen to feed you, even if it's something quickly thrown together. 

Happy eating!

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh)

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh)

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh) with Chinese/Vietnamese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu/Thịt Xá Xíu) 

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Wonton Soup (Mì Hoành Thánh) with Chinese/Vietnamese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu/Thịt Xá Xíu) 

Vietnamese Egg Noodle Soup with Wontons Recipe
(Mì Hoành Thánh)

Makes 5-7 servings

Ingredients

Broth

  • 2 lb pork bones
  • 2 lb chicken bones
  • 6 liters water
  • 1/2 cup dried shrimp (soak in warm water for 30 minutes, drain then rinse)
  • 1 small dried squid (soak in warm water for 30 minutes, drain then rinse)
  • 2 white or yellow onions (roast whole at 400 F for 30 minutes or until oozing)
  • 10 shallots (roast whole at 400 F for 30 minutes or until oozing)
  • 50 grams rock sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon MSG (MSG is the greatest contribution to the culinary world. Not sure what's all the fuss is about, but you can omit if preferred)

Soup Toppings / Other Components

Instructions

Broth

  1. Clean the pork and chicken bones thoroughly. To clean the bones, fill a large stock pot with enough water that would cover bones without overflowing. Bring water to a boil. Add bones and cook for 5 minutes. Pour content of pot into a colander and rinse bones with cold water. If you are going to re-use the pot for stock, make sure to clean the pot thoroughly too.
  2. In a stock pot, add 6 liters water and cleaned bones. Bring pot to a boil.
  3. Add dried shrimp, squid, roasted onions and roasted shallots (remove any burnt peels from the roasted onions and shallots before adding to stock).
  4. Cook 2 to 2.5 hours on medium low heat, occasionally skim the surface of the stock to keep the broth clear.
  5. Season with rock sugar, salt and MSG.

Assembly

  1. To each bowl, add about 1/2 cup egg noodles and 3-5 wontons. 
  2. Ladle on hot broth.
  3. Top with a few slices of barbecue pork, fish balls and shrimp.
  4. Garnish with fried shallots, green onions and pork fat.