You may have seen this popular street dish even in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - what seems to be soup with white rice noodle strips, garnished with thin slices of meat, seafood and vegetable. It is truly appetising, does not encourage over eating and yet wholesome to the palate.
They are always prepared fresh and their outcomes in taste and flavour rely heavily on the subtleness and balance in the stock soup. A variety of texture is enhanced by the ingredients chosen to accompany the noodles and soup. The quality and freshness of the rice noodle strips - Koay Teow - is then the other X Factor.
In Shantou, my group of six fellow travellers and mates came across a really crowded eat shop, with mainly locals concentrating on their individual bowls of piping hot Manna. Even more lively was the scene around the preparation - a few really focused staff going about cooking the dish in earnest and amazing silence. The garnish, cut meats, herbs and seafood were all ready to be used and waiting in bowls. There was a variety of noodles to be chosen according to the preference of customers - egg versions, rice types and vermicelli. It was late breakfast time.
The venue had a wide front, easily two shop fronts. Winter was not too far away and so the lure of hot soups was obvious.
A spattering of Teochew and Mandarin languages could be heard. People came and went, as this was a pit stop on a busy day. Just like in south-east Asia, there were accompaniments of cut chilli strips, Shasha sauce or pounded chilli in oil. The large containers of boiling water had cooking smoke rising above, adding to the pace of the place.
I relished in the pieces of seafood, deep fried fish cake, bean sprouts, Capsicums, meat balls, quail eggs, fish balls, blanched cabbage and more.
The piping hot soups are garnished with garlic oil, coriander, fresh shallots and scallions.
The proof of the pudding, so to speak, is in the stock soup, which is usually made by having an interplay of flavours with pork bones, dried squid and chicken.