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.
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.
Vietnamese Egg Noodle Soup with Wontons RecipE (Mi Hoanh Thanh)
Makes 5-7 servings
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
1 lb package fresh thin egg noodles (cook per package instructions and rinse under hot water to remove excess starch)
Cooked fish balls
Cooked whole shrimps
1/2 cup fried shallots
2 green onions (slice thinly)
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.
In a stock pot, add 6 liters water and cleaned bones. Bring pot to a boil.
Add dried shrimp, squid, roasted onions and roasted shallots (remove any burnt peels from the roasted onions and shallots before adding to stock).
Cook 2 to 2.5 hours on medium low heat, occasionally skim the surface of the stock to keep the broth clear.
Season with rock sugar, salt and MSG.
To each bowl, add about 1/2 cup egg noodles and 3-5 wontons.
Ladle on hot broth.
Top with a few slices of barbecue pork, fish balls and shrimp.
Garnish with fried shallots, green onions and pork fat.