Bun Mam is a Mekong-style rice vermicelli soup dish from Soc Trang Province made with fermented fish, seafood and roast pork.
The Mekong Delta is known for rice, fruit, herbs, vegetables and fish. Bun mam to me literally represent the Mekong Delta in a bowl. It’s a very robust dish, to say the least, and each bowl is filled with so many contrasting flavours that your taste buds will definitely get a workout.
Bun mam comprises bun (rice vermicelli), mam broth, shrimp, squid, crispy roasted pork belly, ca loc (catfish), cha ca (fish cake) and eggplant. One of the most important part of the dish are the fresh herbs involved, including rau nhut (water mimosa), bap chuoi (banana blossom), sung (shredded lotus stems), rau dang (bitter knotgrass), rau muong (morning glory), gia (bean sprouts), keo neo (yellow velvetleaf) and he (chive). This dish literally cannot exist without these fresh herbs.
The closest comparison to bun mam would be a Cajun gumbo from New Orleans. Gumbo is generally based on a deep, dark roux (flour and fat cooked together to thicken the broth) made with shellfish (crab, shrimp, clams), seafood or fowl (chicken or duck) with added Andouille (smoked) sausages and ham. Vegetables and herbs such as celery, garlic, bell peppers, onion, okra, tomatoes, Cajun seasoning (cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, basil and parsley) and chicken stock. Serve it in a bowl or pour it over rice and you’re good to go.
My wife often makes lau mam (hot pot) for groups of friends and family. To make this dish you will need a jar of mam (fermented fish), minced garlic, shallots and lemongrass, salt, chicken stock, a face mask and a good ventilation fan. Believe me, mam does not smell like your average backyard barbecue.
Start with a small pot of water (about a litre) and bring it to a boil before adding the jar of fermented fish to the pot for about 15 minutes to dissolve the mam. Make sure to occasionally skim off the foam. Once dissolved, pour the fermented fish broth through a mesh strainer to separate the bits and pieces of fish bone. Discard what’s caught in the mesh and set the broth aside.
In a separate pot saute the garlic, lemongrass and shallots. Add about three liters of water, the fermented fish broth, eggplant, lemongrass stalk and let it simmer. Seasoned the broth with sugar and chicken stock. Once the broth is simmering, use a metal basket to submerge chunks of catfish, squid and shrimp in the broth until cooked. Removed the seafood basket and set it aside until ready to serve. The result is a thick, murky, heavy and pungent broth, which is sweet and tangy at the same time. To serve add rice vermicelli to a bowl, then the cooked seafood, broth, crispy roast pork and fish cake. On the side place the fresh herbs, chopped red chili, lime wedges, and a tamarind dipping sauce and you’re ready to dive in and give this dish a try.
1. Bun Mam 144
144 Khanh Hoi Street, District 4
Open Daily 9am to 9pm
2. Quan 444
375 Le Quang Dinh, Binh Thanh District
Open Daily 9am to 10pm
3. Bun Mam 47
91A Le Quang Sung, District 6
Open Daily 11.30am to 10pm
4. Bun Mam Phuong
(On Nguyen Thien Thuat food street)
010 Lo G Trung Cuu Nguyen Thien Thuat
Alley 251 Nguyen Thien Thuat, District 3
Open Daily 2pm to 10pm.