I consider myself a bit of a Asian noodle soup connoisseur. I could eat a bowl of noodle soup every day, and probably not tire of it, as long as the origin of the cuisine varied. Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Chinese… I never met a well prepared bowl of noodle soup of any Asian cuisine that I didn’t like. Whenever the components are available, I like to squirt a couple circles of sriracha, a few dollops of chili paste, a dash of chili oil and two or three pickled jalapeno slices.
Recently, I returned to an old favorite of mine, Vien Huong, in Oakland Chinatown. A friend of my then-boyfriend introduced us to it in 1994. It’s one of those bare bones, hole in the wall places that seat different parties at the same large table in order to get customers in and out as quickly as possible. You have to order quickly and clearly, or else you’ll earn a scowl and the possibility of not being served again. Early on, they used the practice of dumping hot tea on the table to wipe it down, though I haven’t seen them do this in a while. Also, if you can’t use chopsticks, you have to request a fork. Charming, I know, but these kinds of places have their virtues – the food is cheap and quick. Look to the line outside the door, and it’s a sure sign that the food is also tasty.
The menu has about 20 different noodle soups. You can choose between rice noodles and egg noodles. There are also various chow mein/fun noodles and rice plates, but everyone gets the noodle soup. The broth is to die for. (The fried fish cake appetizer is also tasty.)
When I first started coming here, I ordered the rare beef ho fun soup. They don’t mess around with their rare beef – the bowl arrives instantaneously and steaming hot, so that the beef is still perfectly pink throughout. As much as I love pho and Thai boat noodles, many restaurants seem content to let the bowl sit for a little longer so that the beef is more medium well rather than the medium rare that I prefer.
I also tried the seafood ho fun, which was tasty, then I went experimental and tried the pork kidney ho fun. It arrived sprinkled with fried garlic. I took a cue from the other customers, and made a dipping sauce with the sriracha and hoisin sauce for the kidney. Yum! This sent me on a offal kick that is with me to this day. I also made special requests (which they’re happy to accomodate), mixing up shrimp, kidney and rare beef.
Now I get the house special – the chow jew ho fun, which includes shrimp, ground pork, kidney, fish balls, beef balls and the chef’s choice in meat (barbeque pork, duck or roast pork). Next time, I just might have to ask them to throw in some rare beef with the chow jew.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Uh-huh, that’s nice. Why is this post called ‘Go Away, Baby!’?” Well, back when I frequented this place with my friend, Justin, one of the food runners was a gruff, heavyset woman with stout arms that came from a lifetime of balancing multiple trays filled with bowls of noodle soup. She was quite a marvel to watch, barreling back and forth between the kitchen and the tables, sometimes carrying over a dozen hot bowls of soup.
One day, we watched her drive out of the kitchen loaded down with a few trays, then stop on a pin as an errant toddler wandered directly into her path. She paused for half a beat, then bellowed “GO AWAY, BABY!!!” at the top of her lungs. The child was subsequently retrieved by his guardian. Justin and I immediately rechristened the place as “Go Away, Baby!”.
Vien Huong (aka “Go Away, Baby!”) is on 712 Franklin Street, between 7th and 8th Streets, in Oakland. Their phone number is (510) 465-5938, and their hours are Monday-Sunday 8:30 am – 6:00 pm. Cash only.