Dish: Mi Vit Tiem (braised duck noodle soup with Chinese herbs and spices)
Place: Hue Ky Mi Gia, Little Saigon
In the bowl: Free-range chicken broth with a leg-thigh section of braised duck, noodles, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, green onions, Chinese red dates (hong zao, or jujubes), and "five spice" seasoning.
Supporting cast: The soup comes with a small plate of picked carrots and papaya on the side. Otherwise, nothing, unless you'd like to spice up your soup with Sriracha sauce or chili oil, which you'll find on the table.
What to do: Pull apart pieces of duck with your chopsticks for bites, alternating with slurps of noodles and spoonfuls of the flavorful broth. The carrots and papaya provide a nice counterpoint to the duck.Noodling around: You get your choice of noodles, but the recommended and popular type is thin egg noodles (dried). There are also thicker egg noodles, which I generally prefer in other dishes, along with rice noodles and rice vermicelli.
It looks like you'll need to lift the entire duck piece with your chopsticks, but it's actually quite tender, falling easily off the bone. It's also delicious, with notes of ginger and honey. The slightly sweet and certainly savory broth is flavorful and doesn't really need anything additional, especially if you want to appreciate the five-spice seasoning. The soup is good anytime of the year, but is especially comforting in winter.
The jujubes are used extensively in Chinese medicine, as they're said to calm the mind, nourish the blood, fight against fatigue and poor appetite, protect against toxins, and boost Vitamin C.
If you want more: Look around and you'll find everyone eating canh ga chien bo (chicken wings deep fried in butter). You'll find these much-acclaimed wings ($7.00) in the appetizer part of the menu. The slightly thick breading works well in this dish, resulting in wings encrusted with garlic, green onion, chili, and salt. Eat as is, or swipe in the tangy dipping sauce that comes with them.
Be aware/beware: The "Hue" in the restaurant's name is grandpa's name, and not the Vietnamese city. "Mi gia" means "noodle house." There are two restaurants in this family business. One is inside the Great Wall Mall in Renton. If, like me, you visit the one in the Little Saigon, be forewarned that it's best to park on the surface if possible. I've been trapped in the garage below and once waited twenty minutes to get out due to traffic and challenging parking conditions. Also note that the restaurant is extremely popular, which can mean cramped quarters and occasional waits. Those waits are worthwhile, though, for quality food, reasonable prices, and friendly service.