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A southern treat and sole menu item

Update: May, 02/2021 - 08:19

 Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali in coastal Vũng Tàu City specialises in only one dish - hủ tiếu - served with a tasty signature broth that keeps diners, including Mỹ Duyên, coming back for more.

ON THE SIDE: Hủ tiếu mực is served with fresh bean sprouts and crown daisy, and homemade green pepper sauce. VNS Photo Minh Phi

Along with bánh canh, a thick rice-noodle soup, hủ tiếu (thin rice-noodle soup) is a popular dish in southern Việt Nam and also happens to be my favourite.

The soup is served with different kinds of broth and either pork or seafood or a combination of both. It is one of the best dishes from the south and should not be missed. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or even as a snack.

During my last visit to the southern coastal province of Bà Rịa - Vũng Tàu, my twins and I sampled seafood delicacies, including hủ tiếu mực, or thin-rice noodle soup with fresh squid, which may have been the most memorable.

ESSENTIAL DINING: Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali Restaurant is a familiar destination travellers should not miss when in Vũng Tàu. VNS Photo Minh Phi

I’m a fan of bánh canh and hủ tiếu, and when I can’t find time to cook, I often go out for a bowl. Mostly, I eat rice-noodle soup with pork, so this was the first time I had squid and pork soup, which had a decidedly different taste.

It was a windy evening when we arrived at the Vũng Tàu beach city. Because it was late for dinner, we were terribly hungry and went straight to Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali, a nearby rice-noodle restaurant just after checking in at our hotel.

Located on Lê Hồng Phong Street, one of the beautiful streets in the centre of Vũng Tàu City that leads directly to the white sandy beach, the restaurant is a familiar destination for travellers.

With a good city view, it is full of visitors in the daytime, especially during the high season when tourists flock to the beach city to spend time with family and friends relaxing, eating, and enjoy the seaside.

Renowned for its fresh squid noodle soup in a striking yet informal setting, the restaurant never disappoints its loyal clientele, who come back year after year for the specialty and its fabulous flavours prepared in a southern manner.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Hủ tiếu mực (thin-rice noodle soup with fresh squid, meatballs and quail egg), the only dish served at Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali Restaurant. VNS Photo Minh Phi

The restaurant is designed like a typical wooden southern country house filled with wooden furniture. Everything is finely arranged and tidy. Its outdoor space is decorated with small beautiful flower pots, creating an airy atmosphere and cosy ambience.

We ordered three bowls of the fresh squid noodle soup at VNĐ69,000 each.

As the restaurant’s slogan is “Hủ tiếu mực -- Fine cuisine of the Vietnamese people”, it makes the soup differently from other kinds of hủ tiếu I have had, such as hủ tiếu tàu (rice noodle soup Chinese-style) or hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh-style rice noodle soup). The broth, however, is prepared with the same ingredients -- pork bones.

As the waiter walked towards us with bowls of soup, my senses were awakened. When the bowl was placed in front of me, it looked irresistible. Finely arranged with fresh squid rings, meatballs, half-boiled quail egg, golden brown onion slices, and spring onions on top, the dish was eye-catching and with a nice aroma.

What impressed me first were the rice noodles, which were chewy and thin with a milky light white colour (while Chinese-style noodles are flat, soft and bigger, with a milky-white colour).

The pleasing savour came from the juicy slow-simmered bone broth, which was limpid and clear. It was surprisingly delicate in flavour, with a savoury umami and sweetness as well.

The secret of the soup was the quality of the squid and pork.

“The broth is the decisive element that made us famous,” a waiter told us. “We prepare our broth for several hours from the finest pork bones, and carefully select fresh squid using our own family secret. All of the steps in preparation are strictly controlled so that the soup we serve today and tomorrow has the same quality and taste.”

The fresh rice flour used for the noodles also contribute to its distinctive taste, and the meatballs delivered an especially fine taste like no other. It was a perfect combination of freshly minced pork, ground pepper, and diced onions. Notably, the squid was carefully selected so that they were neither big nor small, and were all the same size. The squid rings and meatballs were perfect complements.

To enhance the flavour, I added crown daisy and bean sprouts when the soup was still hot, and then mixed them. It was fantastic.

I next tried the squid rings with fresh green pepper sauce. Dipped in the homemade spicy sauce, the squid was irresistible. The rings were fresh, juicy and crunchy with a very milky white colour. The noodle soup, unlike any served in the city, was a delicacy that simply must be tried.

Meanwhile, my twins enjoyed the noodles without the vegetables and the spicy sauce. My son even begged for another portion. “I love the soup, please let me have more,” he said.

Besides hủ tiếu mực, guests can also order side dishes like squid, meatballs, or noodles with soup only.

After finishing a bowl of the squid noodle soup, I was almost full, but asked for two more bowls, one with squid and shrimp (VNĐ79,000 each) and another noodle with soup only (VNĐ15,000), for my children.

Five bowls of the squid noodles finally filled us up. It was quite late, so we walked back to our hotel and thought about returning there for breakfast before leaving for HCM City.

With its dedicated service and airy and cosy ambience, Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali offers a perfect dining experience. VNS

Hủ Tiếu Mực Ông Già Cali Restaurant

Address: 3 Lê Hồng Phong Street

113 Hoàng Hoa Thám Street

Vũng Tàu City, Bà Rịa Vũng Tàu Province

Hotline: 0903 099 955

Hours: 6am-10pm

Comments: A southern Vietnamese delicacy at an affordable price. Cosy ambience and friendly, dedicated service.

Price: from VNĐ69,000 per bowl

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