- Last Updated on Friday, 12 August 2016 13:27
- Published on Friday, 12 August 2016 13:27
- Written by Dana Filek-Gibson. Photos by Brandon Coleman.
Rarely have I gone into a meal with such anticipation.
Through a combination of bad weather and conflicting schedules, my dinner at District 10’s finest duck noodle spot was postponed several times before it actually happened. In the interim, we dispatched our film crew to create the food envy-inducing video below and our photographer, Brandon, made a visit or two on his own to capture the photogenic noodles.
But while everyone else was getting in on the braised duck goodness buried down an alley off Nguyen Tri Phuong, I was only hearing about it.
“You’ve gotta check out this duck spot,” Brandon told me. The photos of his trip – the ones you see here – later surfaced in our work exchanges, taunting me. By the time yesterday afternoon rolled around, I was ravenous and excited. It felt exclusive, like I was going to meet a celebrity. This underscores my relationship to food: put me in front of Son Tung, Taylor Swift or any army of K-pop singers and I could care less; tell me we’re going to eat a mean bowl of duck noodles and I get the jitters.
The sign out front of Nguyen Tri Phuong’s hẻm 481 looks depressing, but it doesn’t take long to see how misleading this signage is. Just a few feet down the alley, a standard steel street cart is lit by fluorescents. Behind it, waiters pile heaps of braised duck into plastic tubs. The golden brown thighs look sexy on their own, but pair them with equally generous tubs of mì – real, genuine egg noodles, not the instant version you see so casually substituted into many a local meal – plus a killer broth, and you’re in heaven.
These Shanghai-style noodles, served from 3pm to 10pm everyday, come with several different parts of the duck – breast, thigh, neck, phao câu – but what you want to spring for is the house specialty: mì đùi vịt 1 góc tư. The dish features a trifecta of well-made, mouthwatering components: rich, flavorful broth, a generous serving of golden-brown braised duck and a tuft of al dente egg noodles.
In my experience, duck can be a divisive protein; people either love it or hate it. The general complaint among the haters is its texture and consistency, too tough and chewy for some. But this duck manages to attain that perfect, fall-off-the-bone quality that eludes lesser cooks, and combined with the other main ingredients, plus a few spring onions and the odd táo tàu (jujube), it’ll have you ordering seconds.
Beyond the bowl – I only looked up for a few brief moments during my meal, so caught up in the euphoria of duck noodles was I – 481’s dining area occupies one side of the alley. Outside, waiters serve customers beneath a string of heavy-duty fluorescent lights, while a single table indoors is used for inclement weather and larger parties. Across the alley and around the corner, another house also handles overflow from the main cart. Last but not least, the Chinese music streaming from a stereo somewhere inside the alley is a nice finishing touch.
On the whole, 481’s Shanghai-style duck noodle cart does not come with the bustling, frenetic energy infused into most evening street food joints but this, too, is part of its charm. Sometimes, after a long wait, a lengthy pilgrimage from District 1 and a solid week of anticipation, you just want to enjoy your meal in peace.
To sum up:
Dana is 70% caffeine, 50% fish sauce and hasn't taken a math class since 2004.
Mì vịt tiềm Thượng Hải
Hẻm 481 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Ward 4, D10