Canh Bun is a working man’s lunchtime bowl of noodles – rough, honest food for hard men and women who plough paddies and dig roads all day long. Well, I think it is. That’s how I imagine the average Canh Bun muncher in Saigon anyhow. Somewhat romantic, wildly misguided? probably. I mean, there aren’t any paddy fields in Saigon for a start and there were certainly no rugged types at Ty’s stall on Ben Thanh market on this visit. It was office worker, housewife & skiving scribe hour this lunchtime. However, Canh bun is a rakish bedfellow the petit bourgeois in all of us should give in to at least once.
Canh bun consists of rau muong (morning glory), thick (bun) noodles, fried tofu, minced crab and stock. It’s earthy, it’s healhy, it’s blinkin’ marvellous. I have only ever tried one Canh bun – this one – and although there’s many a soup that is tastier and more sophisticated in the Vietnamese cannon there is none that brandishes quite such peasant personality. A helping hand in the flavour department comes from bowls of freshly minced red chilis, sliced lemons and mam tom. Mam tom is the pungent purplish sauce/paste that would clear most restaurants of customers if it was let loose in your average, western eatery, but for the full Canh bun monty you really should add a spoonfull of this caustic chap. The putrid pong dissipates in the soup and transforms a good ol’ straight 4 cylinder Canh Bun into a throbbing V8 charged brothbuster. Peasant power for the people… or something like that.
Peasant or otherwise I couldn’t begin to replicate this back at pieman towers. I’m sure the stock is a killer to concoct and at 6,000VD a throw on the market it’s hardly worth the effort trying for yourself. But it is worth the motorbike taxi fare down to the market for a dose of this dish any day of your week.