Noodle soups in Vancouver go beyond ramen and pho

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My love for noodle soups deepened when traipsing around Asia a few years ago. A bowl of stewed duck noodles, fragrant with fresh herbs, doled out by a jocular woman outside the Central Market in Hanoi was a perfect late breakfast. Munching our way through three bowls of ramen out of eight on offer at the Ramen Stadium in Fukuoka’s massive Canal City Hakata shopping complex was a gut-busting taste adventure in itself. Wherever we went, we sought out noodle soups.

As it turns out, there is plenty to discover right here at home. For now, I’ll skim over both the legion of Vietnamese pho houses that have sprung up around town in the past decade and the more recent crop of Japanese ramen shops, as they are likely already familiar to many.

Of late, a relatively new kid in town is gaining popularity: yu tang mi xian, which can be literally translated as “fish soup rice thread”. At the heart of the dish, like any noodle soup, is the broth. This one, hailing from south China, is a Chiu Chow–style broth made from fish, pork, and chicken bones with ginger and spices that’s simmered for long hours until the soup turns milky white and develops a unique, full, creamy flavour. From there, the plot thickens. In its basic form, in which I first had it at Mui Garden on Main Street (there are various other locations), it is served with rice-thread noodles that are actually as thick as spaghetti. Three toppings were on the menu: sliced beef brisket, fish balls, and assorted seafood.

At Deer Garden Signatures (two locations in Richmond: 2015–8580 Alexandra Road and 1118–3779 Sexsmith Road), where they lay claim to being the pioneer of the concept in Greater Vancouver, ordering fish-soup noodles is a choose-your-own-combo process. While you wait in line to get a seat—as you do most of the time—you can pick up a special order form on which you can choose from six soup bases: original fish soup, gingko and pepper, tomato and pumpkin, and so on. Five other soups, including Thai tom yum and Malay laksa, are also available. For the base price of $7.95, you can pick one of eight types of noodle and two toppings out of 30, ranging from sliced beef, pork liver, and cuttlefish balls to fish tofu and sliced pumpkin. All bowls come with Napa cabbage, bean-curd sheets, and mushrooms; extra toppings are $1 each. The price also includes Hong Kong–style coffee or milk tea (add $1 for iced versions and $2 for Taiwanese specialty drinks). Six add-ons are also offered for $1.50 each. I recommend the “desert wings” with ginger and the pan-fried fish puffs.

If Richmond is a bit far afield, do try the Golden Pair Fusion Cafe (546 West Broadway), where you’ll find a pretty good facsimile of this concept. A recent bowl of original fish soup (slightly underseasoned but easily fixed with a pinch of salt) with thick rice noodles, cuttlefish balls, fish tofu, and beef brisket was generous in portion and quite tasty.

Speaking of milky, protein-rich broths, my favourite remains sul lung tang, Korean beef soup. At my go-to spot, Seoul Doogbaegi Korean Restaurant (1031 Kingsway), the flavourful soup comes to the table bubbling hot in a stoneware bowl. A small pot of black pepper–laced sea salt at every table and a side of chopped green onions encourage adjustment to taste. Sliced beef with (vermicelli-thin) flour noodles ($7.95) and cow knee-tendon soup with potato noodles ($10.95) were accompanied by five banchan (veggie sides) along with a bowl of steamed rice, making them healthful full-meal deals for an unbeatable price.

While beef is on our minds, let’s not forget the culturally iconic Taiwanese beef noodle soup. Despite online grousing about what Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle (Unit 2800, Aberdeen Centre, Richmond) charges for their “champion” beef noodle soups ($10.95), I must say that this three-time winner of the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival is not up against a very deep field in these parts. His champion beef-shank noodle soup, of the traditional red-cooked style, is tasty, clean, well-balanced, and deftly presented with a duo of tender beef shank and lightly torched, rare sliced beef. But I prefer the beef brisket in clear soup, which is light yet richly flavoured and rivals some of my top picks in Hong Kong.

And, of course, for research purposes, don’t miss the noodle-soup offerings during the annual TaiwanFest. They are worth the lineup.

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