Just in time for cooler weather, chef Vince Nguyen of Berlu is starting a new take-home concept focused on noodle soup.
Every Friday starting November 6, Nguyen will offer two noodle soups—one meat and one vegan—featuring Vietnamese recipes that aren’t commonly found in the United States. Customers simply heat the broth at home, then pour it over the ingredients in a bowl. The soups will be served in reusable takeout containers, and spring rolls and Vietnamese pastries will also be available for purchase.
It’s just one of the many concepts that Berlu, normally a fine dining tasting menu restaurant named one of PoMo’s Best New Restaurants of 2019, has implemented to weather the pandemic. This summer, Nguyen launched Berlu at Home, an at-home Saturday tasting menu series that’s since ended so he can turn his focus toward Friday’s noodle pop-up. He’s also continuing with the Bakery at Berlu, a pop-up (and PoMo pick for Best Restaurants 2020) that started this summer serving Vietnamese and Vietnamese-inspired pastries on weekend mornings.
This Friday’s meat-based soup is Bánh canh Trảng Bàng from Southeast Vietnam, made with pork neck bone broth aromatic with fish sauce and pepper, and loaded with slices of pork neck, chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage), toothsome and thick fermented rice noodles made in-house, cilantro, and scallions. The vegan soup will be built upon a fermented shiitake mushroom broth, full of cha siu-style lobster mushrooms, grilled cabbage, more of those thick fermented rice noodles, and a garnish of cilantro and scallions. Both are served with lime and house-fermented chili sauce.
Like many of us who’ve been tackling ambitious cooking projects while stuck at home, Nguyen says of his sudden interest in a house-made noodle concept: “It started at the start of quarantine.” Over the coming weeks, visitors can expect all kinds of house-made noodles— fermented rice and tapioca vermicelli in various sizes, along with turmeric noodles and egg noodles. What they won’t find, however, are noodles made with wheat flour; Berlu is certified gluten-free, and the restaurant also doesn’t use any dairy products.
“That’s the fun of it for me, is exploring these different noodles. It’s not too difficult within Vietnamese cuisine, because they don’t really rely on standard wheat flour,” Nguyen says.
The noodle soups are part of a trend that Nguyen’s noticed in his cooking, especially during the pandemic: a return to his Vietnamese roots. While Berlu, in its tasting menu form, often incorporated Asian and Vietnamese influences, the bakery, and even more so the noodle soup menu, draw directly from Vietnamese tradition. Nguyen studied the recipes for his baked goods primarily on YouTube— “the modern-day cookbook,” he jokes—and learned how to make noodle soups from YouTube and his stepmother, whom he recently grew closer to during the learning process.
“I didn’t grow up with much of a Vietnamese influence. I even rejected the culture when I was younger,” Nguyen says. “It wasn’t really until I started my pop-up in Portland, when I kind of became proud to be Vietnamese. I had a lot of people coming in and supporting me just because I was Vietnamese, and that really empowered me and made me realize that I should be proud of my heritage.”
“And it only increased when I opened the brick and mortar. And with the pandemic and me starting a Vietnamese bakery, again I felt an empowerment when Vietnamese people would come and support,” Nguyen says. “The way I’ve learned about myself is through cooking, through food.”
Ordering opens every Monday on Tock and closes every Friday at noon.