Since the Pho book released, a handful of people have asked if I know how to make fresh rice noodles, if there’s a recipe in the book. I’ve seen them made, and after attempting to make banh pho rice noodles, would rather leave the task to the pros. It’s a craft, a skill and business that traditionally one family develops and passes down from one generation to another. Moreover, making fresh rice noodles is not like making Italian pasta. Rice and wheat flour behave differently since rice lacks the gluten that allows wheat to be easily manipulated.
Pho noodles are flat like those used for pad Thai, cut into narrow strands that range from small (linguine), medium (fettuccine), or large (papardelle). In Vietnam, tender fresh ones are used by pho vendors and sold at open air markets. In grocery stores, you’ll see dried pho noodles.
During my pho research in Vietnam, I wanted to track down a fresh noodle maker. After all, the rice noodles are what carry and convey pho flavor. Made by steaming rice batter into thin sheets and then cutting them into strands, bánh phở rice noodles define pho soup. I wanted a look at old school production and my friends, Tracey Lister and Duyen Phan of the Hanoi Cooking Centre, and Mark Lowerson of Hanoi Street Food Tours, were game. They accompanied me and Karen Shinto for an outing to Nam Dinh city and province and Van Cu village, the purported places where pho got its start.
Mark helped me hire Dan Tran to drive us from Hanoi and be our fixer. I don’t look Vietnamese and though I speak Vietnamese, having a local person facilitate always helps things go a lot smoother.
If you own The Pho Cookbook, you know from the story on pages 14 to 15 that we did not get to sample pho noodle soup on that outing. However, we did get to see the noodles being made.