The 40-year-old fish noodle shop attracts customers in Nha Trang

KHANH HOA – Fish vermicelli, a dish that her parents cooked for a difficult time, was sold by Mrs. Loan throughout the Xom Moi market and then opened a restaurant, becoming a brand.

From 4 am, Ms. Nguyen Thi Loan, 61 years old, and her son open a shop on Ngo Gia Tu Street, near Xom Moi market, Nha Trang city . Many small traders and market-goers stop by the shop to enjoy a bowl of hot fish noodle soup for an energetic morning.

Ms. Loan shared that she is a person who likes to cook, so since childhood, she has often paid attention to the dishes her grandmother and parents cook. Which, one dish that she, like many children in Khanh Hoa sea at that time, loved was fish noodle soup. Adults often remove all the bones, chop the fish into small pieces and then put it in the pot to make a sweet broth. The sea-flavored dishes associated with her childhood made her passionate about selling when she grew up.

Fish noodles at Mrs. Loan's restaurant are full of sailfish, fried fish cakes, steamed, jellyfish... served with chopped raw vegetables.  The shop is open from 5am to 10pm every day.  Photo: Lan Huong
Fish noodles at Mrs. Loan’s restaurant are full of sailfish, fried fish cakes, steamed, jellyfish… served with chopped raw vegetables. The shop is open from 5am to 10pm every day. Photo: Lan Huong

At the age of 20, she rented a plot to sell in the Xom Moi market. For decades, her fish noodle shop has been familiar to the locals. Later, when more and more tourists came to Nha Trang, the roads became more and more spacious and modern, Ms. Loan opened a shop, but it was not far from the market, far from regular customers.

For 40 years, based on her parents’ recipe, Ms. Loan added more ingredients and side dishes to meet the needs of diners. In which the “soul” of the dish is still the broth of sailfish and beef, which is both sweet and full of flavor from the sea but not as fishy as freshwater fish.

For an hour, she boiled dozens of kilograms of fish with a 50-liter pot of water and distilled pure, protein-rich water from the fish. When selling, she just mixes to dilute, add more seasoning to fit. Boiled sailfish is cut to the size of two fingers, the meat is firm, so each piece is square, not broken or friable. In the dish, there are also many kinds of steamed fish cakes, fried fish, and balls made by Mrs. Loan. Cha is made from mackerel, barracuda, or depending on the fishing season of the people, mixed in will create toughness without the need for welding.

One of the different ingredients that also creates a novelty for the dish is jellyfish feet. Ms. Loan shared that despite the expensive price, she still chose the leg partly because it was more brittle than the jellyfish’s body. After taking the fresh jellyfish’s feet back, they must be poured into a large bucket of water mixed with salt, then taken to a bucket of cold water to shrink the legs and become crispy.

The jellyfish legs are soaked in cold water, when sold, they are taken out, washed, and dried.  Photo: Lan Huong
The jellyfish legs are soaked in cold water, when sold, they are taken out, washed, and dried. Photo: Lan Huong

When enjoying the food, many visitors may find it strange because the broth is clear, and a little darker than filtered water. But when tasting, the sweet taste spreads in the mouth, not spicy and aromatic. After adding lemon, ground chili, and shrimp paste, the dish is just right.

Thao Trang, a Hanoi visitor for the second time to Nha Trang, also enjoying the fish noodle soup here for the second time, shared her favorite because the taste is very strange, different from the dishes in the North. She said that the most impressive part was the crispy and salty jellyfish, so she ordered more every day.

“When eating, the fish cake is very sweet, the jellyfish is tight, and the broth and fish pickle are just sweet, creating a blend of flavors. Such a large portion is so full, I have to order less vermicelli every time. “, she said. Such a special bowl of vermicelli costs 45,000 VND.

Ms. Loan shared that on a peak day, she ran out of 37 pots of water with nearly 3 kilos of vermicelli and one kilo of Banh Chung. Affected by the epidemic, but has become more stable, now she sells 20-25 pots of water a day with about 2 quintals of vermicelli. She shared that although there are many tourists from all over the world, she always appreciates the love of the locals. They were the first customers when she was still selling groceries, and they supported the epidemic when the shop was empty.

In 2019, after having an incident that caused a corneal tear in one eye, after the surgery was still cloudy, Ms. Loan was mainly in the kitchen, not directly selling, only when the shop was too crowded. “I love it when I sell goods, I love to be pampered and invite customers to cook my dishes, but now I have bad eyesight, and we’re old, so I go into the kitchen and watch my children do it,” she said.

Ms. Loan pointed out the counter to help with sales when needed, the rest of the time she was in the kitchen making cakes.  Photo: Lan Huong
Ms. Loan pointed out the counter to help with sales when needed, the rest of the time she was in the kitchen making cakes. Photo: Lan Huong

Besides selling for the love, she also wants her name to be associated with the fish noodle business, so that her eldest daughter, who has been lost for 37 years, can find her when she sees it on the news and on television. Every day, she still works hard to open the shop from 5am to 10pm, in her free time makes more cakes and dumplings to serve diners.

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