The Queen of Vermicelli

by Tom Partridge

I have found an exciting little spot and i am going to let you know all about it, but don’t spread it around try to keep it hush hush just between the two of us.

Vientiane is becoming a foodie zone. Cute Taquerias, Bistros, Trattorias, Minimalist industrial Al dente pasta joints, Tangy Thai fusion eateries, Boutique $8 espresso bars, and even a Brazilian Steak house, are popping up all along the riverfront.

If you didn’t know noodles are a way of life in Laos admired, critiqued, slurped and savoured all over the country. In the heart of the capital, simple noodle bars squat alongside their new neon neighbours. Tiny green plastic chairs next to ionised aluminium bar stools.

The love of all things noodles is shared across Asia, The Japanese, Thais and Koreans travel the continent searching for the best broth.

A small family run business in Vientiane is the becoming a cult destination for noodle freaks and now Thai Movie stars and Korean pop princesses take selfies a post videos at Pa Mui’s little Beef Noodle Store.

The Shop doesn’t really have a name the awning outside simply says ‘Beef Noodle Soup’ in three languages. Siliphone Sutia (Pa Mui for short) opened this tiny restaurant almost 30 years ago and the tradition and techniques are unchanged.

When the Tiger Trail team arrived in town it was the only place we wanted to have breakfast, and we were not disappointed.

Ask an Asian ‘What makes a good bowl?’ they will undoubtedly say ‘The Broth’. Sin song the patriarch of (restaurant name) gets up at dawn and bubbles her beef bones for hours before breakfast begins at 7.30, unlike some stock pots that are on a rolling boil for centuries she uses only specific bones and pig hoofs to create a gentle seasons and crystal clear soup and when the pot is empty she builds it again. There is also a secret to the soup…but she ain’t sharing!

There are two dishes on today’s, and every days menu. Big bowls and Small bowls. Each bowls is served with the traditional accompaniments. Thai Basil, Mint, Green Beans, Shrimp paste, Chills. The wobbly tables have the usual Sweet Chili, Fish sauce, Soy sauce and Sugar, all of which you can add to your breakfast to liven it up if its a little…humdrum. I was hoping I wouldn’t need any of these.

Sin Song the queen of Vermicelli curls the noodles into a clump, like she has done for the past 27 years and plunges them into the boiling bath for about a minute before dropping in blood sausage balls called Luk Sin, she strains with a shimmy and then lovingly ladling her broth over the top. Then a handful of thinly sliced beef is added to cook and tenderise in the soup a few garnishes and within 2 minutes the steaming soup is in front of you.

The noodles are perfectly cooked firm not fragile, chewy not gluey. The soup needs no additions just a little lime and some herbs. Breakfast is satisfying and life affirming. After draining my bowl I can tell it’s going to be a good day!

Tip #1 Green beans or a little green chilli can be wiped in Kapi (the little tub of grey paste that smells like a warm dead shrimp in old socks) before enjoying you noodles to add an extra layer of flavour to your soup.

As Laos pushes steadily towards joining the globalised nations, its culinary heartbeat is strong as long as the ‘Queen of Vermicelli’ sits on her little plastic throne next to the Hungarian Vietnamese fusion trattoria in the middle of Vientiane.

Join us next time for the know your noodles..the insiders guide to Lao fast food.
Pa Mui Noodle shop: Amou Silhome RD , Vientiane opposite Haysoke Guesthouse.
Video of Famous Thai movie stars visit