To pigeon hole Bun Rieu as a mere soup does this broth behemoth a disservice. Some might see it as a stew coming over all soup-like, but… ahhh… it’s a difficult one to nail down and the variations are… hmmm…. varied. Some come with crabmeat, some not, some with fishy balls, crab balls, whole shrimps, no tofu, with tofu… la la la. I am not sure there is a ‘definitive’ Bun rieu and in such circumstances, experimentation is the key to finding one that takes your fancy. The street stall I stopped off at, opposite 147 Le Thanh Ton Street, serves up this poor man’s noodle soup and nothing else (Yum – Pieman likes the one dish wonders that don’t know what a menu is) Secondly, although this is my first visit, I’ve seen this ‘one-chef-show’ packing out the pavement from 6pm onwards on a daily basis. Pieman’s rigorous quality control system successfully negotiated – now let’s eat.
The thing with Bun Rieu is that there’s not an awful lot that doesn’t get lumped in for the ride. There’s sliced tomatoes, fried tofu, hunks of pounded crab meat, conjealed blood, ‘spam sticks’, fresh rice noodles, small dried shrimp, chilies, spring onions, garlic, chili paste, mam tom (shrimp paste)… and then you add your beansprouts, herbage, lettuce and what have you… See what I mean? there’s something for all the family in there, but can you really call that little lot a soup? Well, can you?
That innocent looking spoon full of purple paste (Mam tom shrimp paste) above is not to everyone’s taste. It has without doubt THE worst smell in the cooking world. A kind of month old stilton with hint of dead Cod… or something. If you choose to include a dollop, as I always do, best hold your nose and get it in there quick. Amazingly, the smell disappears and doesn’t permeate the dish, but marries with the chili paste and fresh chilies increasing the whole spice packed sweat-down experience that is a bowl of Bun rieu. I’m partial to the taste of blood (huyet) and I have come to like those ‘spamsticks’ (that’s the fella poking out at the back of the bowl above) which, I think, are made of ground pork and shrimp, but I could be very wrong on that. There’s that humungous chunk of pounded crabmeat (on the left) and the tofu. Bun rieu tofu is always fried, giving a firm, slightly crispy exterior and a soft interior. One word of warning – beware of tofu splash-backs – the soft interior is like a sponge and can fill with broth only to explode over your shirt when you pierce the fried exterior. Not cool.
I would have to say this stall serves up a superb, nutritious, pore-breachin’ broth and is well worth checking out. Unfortunately, the chef did break one of Pieman’s review rules, ‘Don’t try and diddle the dim foreigner.’ Pieman paying up policy in situations like this is gently remind them you know the real price, pay up, but never return, no matter how good the food is. This dish should cost between 3 – 6,000VD. Rest assured, I’ll be blogging up a whole lot more Bun rieu before I’m done.