When I found by chance Bun Bo Bao Tram just inside busy Alley 18A off Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, I vowed I would be back to try other versions of their amazing crab soup. That I was able to drag along a friend who doesn’t even like seafood for another round goes to show good food can make a convert out of just about anyone.
This street food joint takes a basic broth and serves it in a plethora of combinations. Tubs of various noodles crowd a preparation area that would give any American health department great pause, and here the soups receive their first infusion of uniqueness. Fat noodles. Skinny noodles. Glass noodles. All sorts of noodles.
The complexity just rises from here with the addition of a protein. Crab. No crab. Crab and snail. Snail only and who knows what else as three quarters of the menu remains indecipherable to me. Actually it’s a lot like some alleyway Burger King where you can “have it your way.” But trust me, this is no fast food.
The basic soup coagulates in the bowl with the same thick consistency of American style Chinese hot and sour soup, and cooked egg strands, mushrooms and sliced green onion impart even more vague familiarity of that staple of strip mall Chinese takeaway eateries. The comparison stops here thankfully as the taste is anything but that cheap Asian mess fooling the masses in Macon, Georgia into some sort of culinary ecstasy.
Bánh canh cua is built around ropy strands of soft, thick soba like noodles. Eating these heavy slick noodles is quite the chopstick challenge as the gravitational pull of the soup bowl seems to reclaim just about every one of them. Tossing in birdseye chili pepper slices along with a few squirts of fresh lime juice bring the prerequisite heat and sour to the sweet crab. Fried doughnut looking rings called kway are the icing on the cake with a taste faintly reminiscent of a sweet baguette. What’s another couple of hundred calories when this thing already has enough gut busting carbohydrate laden noodles to induce diabetes even in the healthiest amongst us?
The amount of crabmeat floating around in the slightly sweet-slightly sour broth floored me. Now if this were America, we’d have a dumbed down version with only enough crab pieces to maintain some minimum truth in advertising standard that this was indeed a crab soup of sorts. Every bite contained more than enough crab and what a wonderful problem to have while managing one greedy spoonful after the other.
In a country where soups are about as common as water and about the same consistency, too, this bánh canh cua is a welcome change of texture. Since crab normally proves too expensive for regular consumption in the US, the dollar bowls here at Bun Bo Bao Tram will keep me gorging to my heart’s content. With the extensive combination of menu choices I should be occupied for quite some time to come.