Noodle soups are very Asian. While I grew up with Chinese noodle soups, more popularly known in the Philippines by the generic name of mami, I have come to love Vietnamese noodle soups as an adult. One of the basic differences between Chinese and Vietnamese noodle soups is the kind of noodles used. Egg noodles are used for Chinese noodle soups; rice noodles are used for Vietnamese noodle soups. While the Chinese have wontons, beef, and chicken balls are common ingredients in Vietnamese noodle soups.
In better quality restaurants, whether Chinese or Vietnamese, noodles are freshly made. A tall order for home cooking. I have to make do with commercially available dried noodles. I used flat rice noodles. In the supermarket, they come in packages labeled ho-fan noodles. The trick to making excellent noodle soups is having a good quality broth. The secret to a good broth is a good combination of meat, vegetables, and spices. I did not use salt to season my broth. I used patis. It adds body, color, and aroma. Then, I added some beef bones to the meat and boiled them together. You can buy soup bones in most supermarkets.
Cut the leeks down the middle and place them under the tap to remove any soil between the layers. Reserve the white to light green portion. Wash the beef and place it in a large saucepan or casserole. Add the whole garlic, whole onion, ginger, and the green portion of the leeks. Add more water, if necessary. You will need six to seven cups of broth to serve four persons.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the white and light green portions of the leeks. Slice the carrot into thin rings. In another saucepan, cook the ho-fan noodles according to the package directions. Ho-fan noodles cook fast–normally, they are done in five minutes. Do not overcook them. As soon as they are cooked, add a cup of cold water to the pan to stop the cooking. Strain the noodles. Divide the noodles into four and place them in individual soup bowls.
When the beef is tender, taste the broth. Add more patis, if preferred, and simmer a few minutes longer. Remove the beef from the broth and cool. Cut into slices or chunks, depending on the final appearance you prefer. Strain the broth. Discard the bones and vegetables and reheat the broth in a clean saucepan or casserole. When boiling, add the carrot rings and leeks and boil for a minute.