It’s more or less common knowledge that the French introduced baguettes to the Vietnamese during the colonial era, but a lesser know French culinary influence are Western-style noodles like spaghetti, penne and macaroni. Known as nui in Vietnamese, the word is derived from the French nouille.
Growing up, whenever mom or grandma prepared steaks or chops, the juicy slabs of meat were always accompanied by noodles (most often spaghetti) rather than rice. Sometimes the noodles were simply stir-fried with garlic, butter, pepper and soy sauce, and other times they were cooked a bit more elaborately with onions and tomato paste. My grandma also like to slip some star-shaped pasta into her chicken and beef soups.
The major difference between pasta as we know it and Vietnamese nui is the employment of rice flour in the latter, because semolina isn’t native to Vietnam. Italian brands of pasta like Barilla are available in most of Saigon’s grocery stores, but their prices are often three times higher than locally produced nui.
The lovely plate of nui xao bo pictured here was made by the Lunch Lady’s younger sister, who works under the same shady tree. The noodles were sauteed with thin slices of beef and thick slices of onions in oil, fish sauce and a smidgen of tomato paste. Side items included fresh tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and a condiment-sized bowl of soy sauce.
The Astronomer and I encountered nui dishes most often at venues serving mi xao don (crispy noodles with gravy). We also encountered nui combined with fried eggs at a snack shack on Ky Dong. Personally, I like to prepare nui with eggs and pork floss. Flossy flossy indeed.