Bun Rieu Cua

By Tristan Ngo

On Phan Boi Chau Street (between Le Loi and Le Thanh Ton), just opposite the east side of Ben Thanh Market, a classic street “ganh” is still in operation. A ganh is a traditional carrying tool made up of a metre-long flat bamboo stick placed on the shoulder with two large baskets hung at either end for balance. This one serves bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup) and opens around 2pm. Everything is usually sold out by 5pm, before the night vendors open up shop around the market.

Bun rieu is a Vietnamese rice vermicelli soup based mainly on crab, with some fish or shellfish paste for added taste. It is originally from the north, but the south has made it a more signature dish. Traditionally, this soup comes with freshwater paddy crabs, which are then pounded in a mortar. The crabmeat is then separated and put into a fine mesh cloth. Water is strained through, along with tomato, forming the base of the broth.

This particular vendor serves the soup with the traditional broth, tomatoes, fried tofu, and congealed pig’s blood (huyet), all topped with crab paste. The broth is flavourful and the crab paste is particularly firm, tasty and arguably the signature part of the dish. Add the sides of shredded banana flower, bean sprouts, perilla (rau tia to), persicaria (rau ram), Vietnamese balm (rau kinh gioi) and split water spinach stems to bring all the flavours together. This is probably one of the best bun rieu cua in Ho Chi Minh City.

There are a few side street vendors operating across Ben Thanh Market but there is only one that serves bun rieu, so it should be easy to find. It is situated approximately in the middle of Phan Boi Chau Street, next to the fresh coconut lady. Street vendors are disappearing gradually in Ho Chi Minh City, so take advantage of their sights, sounds and smells while they are still around.

Cost around VND 30,000/bowl.

Drinks cost around VND 20,000.

Tristan is the chef and owner of The Elbow Room and Skewers, two popular restaurants in District 1. Contact him at ngotristan@yahoo.com


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