One of the most common questions I get when catching up to people about my travels is “What are you eating?” As evident on this blog, I do spend a lot of time thinking about food. For the last few weeks, ever since I got into southern China, the most common answer is rice noodles. There is a bit of sticky rice now that I’m in Laos and plenty of steamed rice and buns in China, but the dish that comes up again and again is rice noodles.
In America, the closest we see to this style of rice noodles is Vietnamese pho. The basic idea is the same; you get a pile of rice noodles in a meat based soup broth that you then adorn with other things. In Kunming, their variation was the across the bridge noodles where you throw everything in to be cooked in the boiling hot soup covered in a layer of oil. In Dali, there were huge blocks of rice flour that they used a grater to pull long thing noodles off of. In Xishuangbanna, things got more pho like but the soup was sometimes flavored more strongly like a Chinese beef noodle soup. The common toppings were ground meat, bok choy or other green, pickled mustard plant, various brown sauces (hot bean paste/soy/unidentified things), and chile pastes.
Once I got into Laos, rice noodles got even more pho like with a light broth, bean sprouts and lots of fresh herbs and greens to put into my soup. The differences this time were the pleasant additions of fish sauce and pickled chiles. I am pleased to find out they use the same brand of fish sauce I do back home: Squid brand. I suspect it might be the cheapest most readily available brand. Good enough for everyone here is good enough for me in America. I’ll have to do another rice noodle comparison when I get into Vietnam.