The ‘Best Noodle Soup in Saigon’ Taste Everything Award goes to a 7,000VD (US$0.45) bowl of Bun Mam and the lady
chef who simply goes by the name of Ba Sau (Number 36). She’s been serving this one noodle soup from her small six-seater stall in an alleyway market in District
10 for the last 25 years. Bun Mam is just one of a
swarm of native vermicelli noodle soups on offer throughout Vietnam, but in
my opinion, it is Vietnam’s soup star and Ba Sau serves the
best I’ve found in Saigon.
So what is it? Pictured above we have part of the assembly line; bun
(vermicelli noodles), soup, aubergine and that green end of spring
onion-alike on your right, which is not a spring onion at all, but something called
he – a kind of garlic chive. Inside the table top glass cabinet are
pre-cooked prawns and fatty, roasted pork complete with a crispy fat trim. Some Bun mam sellers also
throw in squid and fish, but not here. The dish originates from Soc Trang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
The soup stock is the key.
It’s a pork bone/fish combo number rammed full of goodies. Ba Sau throws in a no nonsense, roughly chopped up bag of fresh lemon grass and there’s a healthy splosh or ten of Mam tom, that’s the purple prawn paste
monster pictured above and the one providing the punch
and the pong here. Bun mam does whiff.
Next up is the shrubbery pictured above. It comes on a side plate or ready blanched in your soup – your choice, but for the record I keep my hedgerow raw, add a squeeze of lemon and go easy on the yellow chilli slivers. This amazing bush is
peculiar to Bun mam. The wee green chap to the top right, rau dang (a
variety of cress), has the strongest flavour and is often served with
Chao ca (Rice porridge with fish). According to local food lore, rau dang is
very useful if you’re suffering from a stinking cold. The purple fella
is bong sung (water lilly root). We also have raw beansprouts, raw rau
muong (stripped morning glory) and the green leaf trio of rau thom
(sorrel), rau que (basil) and one sprig of sour rau ca which is a
powerful and unusual ‘fish mint’.
Moving on to the taste. The soup is a slightly sweet, complex, muddy Mekong flood
of fermented prawn paste and chilli lavered into a thick earthy stock. The aubergine has had time to soak the soup up and each velvet bite squeezes soup juice from the veggie core. It’s an unlikely sounding hit, but a hit it undoubtedly is.
It tastes blinkin’ marvellous which is why I have given it, and Ba Sau, the ‘Best Noodle Soup in Saigon’ award for the 2005 Taste Everything Food Awards. NB: I must thank Noodlepie readers, Ecr and Vickie for helping me with hedgerow herb translation work. See full list of awards.