One of the more tangible benefits of living in a multicultural melting pot is the bountiful opportunity for exposure to new and interesting experiences of the, y’know, ethnic and/or, yes, cultural sorts. Nowhere is this brought to mind more clearly than where restaurants and grocery stores are concerned – you can alternate, more or less permanently, between shock (“Wow, the prices are low here”) and confusion (“People eat that?”) and… more confusion (“People eat that… how?”).
Anyway, when you’re a cheapskate, you like to try new stuff, and you live near an asian grocery store, you almost inevitably wind up trying an interesting assortment of instant noodles, be they ramen or pho or udon or things less familiar.
There are a couple of guidelines I like to follow, here. One is to never eat instant noodles whose (purported) flavour is a mystery. Another is to never (try to) eat instant noodles advertised as “spicy” or “extra spicy”, for what should be fairly obvious reasons. Another is to never pay more than $1.50 per package, because I’ve found that price rarely if ever is a reflection of taste or quality.
I have a couple of clear favorites that I gravitate to again and again, because they’re inexpensive and tasty. Still, every once in a while I see something that looks intriguing. That’s how I came to buy, well, this:
“Good” brand “bean vermicelli”, apparently by “Vina Acecook”, and evidently made in Ho Chi Minh City.
Bean vermicelli? Yep. Like rice noodles, only made from… beans. And potatoes, according to the ingredient list.
The two-ounce package was $0.89, and how could I resist? The ridiculous brand name, the inexplicably gothic lettering, the many languages found on the packaging, and the highly intriguing claim below:
“Made with Japanese technology”? How could I resist?
What do you get for your $0.89? Let’s see:
One bundle of “bean vermicelli”. One packet of soup base. One packet of dried mystery vegetables. One packet of what is purported to be “oil”, but I suspect is more like “fat” or maybe “grease”.
Open packages, empty into bowl, add hot water, wait a minute or two, and eat, just like every other instant noodle soup out there. Because this was theoretically chicken flavoured, and because I had some leftover roasted chicken in the fridge, I shredded up a small amount of white-meat chicken and added it to the bowl. This is, after all, how most of these instant noodles are meant to be eaten – BYOP. The result was a bowl filled with ingredients and vague promises of a meal to come:
I added hot water, let sit for three minutes, and stirred. The result was a suspiciously reddish noodle soup glistening with gobbets of
The good news is, it’s not as spicy as the colour might suggest. The bad news is, the principal flavours are, in order:
3, red/chile pepper.
I’ve had “bean vermicelli” before, and it’s not my favorite noodle. It’s like rice noodles you’d find in pho, for instance, only a little chewier. Like rice noodles, it doesn’t absorb much of the broth flavour, so it’s not a mind-boggling taste sensation or anything. Still, with instant noodle soups like this, it’s usually the broth where most of the taste happens, and this isn’t an exception.
On the one hand, I’m impressed that the broth had more than one identifiable flavor – cheap soup bases tend, in my experience, to be pretty boring one-note wonders. On the other hand, the purported flavor – chicken – was barely perceptible amid the sodium (bad!), garlic (yum!) and chile(in moderation, yay!).
I should note, by the way, that mine was, erm, two months past the “best by” date. Oh well.
Anyway, it’s an unusual, and Halal, instant noodle soup from Viet Nam. It’s cheap. It didn’t induce vomiting or diorrhea. It’s not nearly as spicy as most other asian instant noodle soups, and the flavor is more involved than most.
If you like bean/rice vermicelli instant noodles that aren’t spicy, it’s probably worth a try, if you come across it. If you eat bean/rice vermicelli instant noodles because you think they’re healthier than wheat-noodle ones made with palm oil, that full tablespoon of what I sincerely hope was chicken fat is probably not for you.
(Out-of-date noodle package acquired at Golden Harvest on Maryland Avenue, in Saint Paul. I presume it’s available elsewhere, possibly even in samples that haven’t reached the “best-by” date yet. The bowl is “Colorwave” by Noritake. The fork is something from Dansk. Horrible municipal tap water rendered palatable by Culligan. The leftover chicken was probably my roommate’s, please don’t tell on me.)