Bún Hến Getting On The Trail – 92 of 365

Baby Clam Noodles

Out of curiosity I decided to dabble a bit in the touristy side of Saigon and consulted the online version of Lonely Planet for a list of restaurants where westerners could comfortably dip their toes into Saigon’s dining scene.  Interestingly enough a Brazilian steakhouse takes the number one ranking.  The first Vietnamese place doesn’t even show until number five and turns out to be a soup chain really not all that great.  In fact, only seven of the top 20 picks are even Vietnamese cuisine.  People travel all this way only to eat Brazilian??!!  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Number six Nam Gia seemed promising enough based on Lonely Planet’s succinct review:  Tucked away in an alley of cosmetic shops near Ben Thanh Market, Nam Giao serves superb Hué-style mains and is always packed with locals. There’s a simple photo menu.  The location at 136/15 Le Thanh Ton down an alley full of women receiving manis and pedis could give this joint some street cred, but alas the clean chain restaurant feel is woefully out of place with the immediate chaotic and unsanitized environs.

I dragged a friend to this joint with high hopes a place garnering number six of all restaurants in Saigon would likely prove an afternoon taste delight.  Just as Lonely Planet told us, the large menu carefully portrays each item in high gloss detail.  An appetizing picture of bún hến or baby clam noodles perked up my appetite, and a few minutes later a ceramic bowl devoid of any ingredients of color except brown and white arrived.  Much like back home, the pictures are always more appetizing than the actual product

This bowl filled with noodles, tiny salty clams, salty pork rind, salty peanuts, salty fried strips of something, sesame seeds, and onion is accompanied by a smaller one filled with an overly salty broth.  Now I realize clams come from the ocean, but I don’t want to ingest the ocean with my meal.  Pushing this liquid taste of the sea away from my immediate food area caught the ire of the waiter who walked over and dumped it into over my meal without warning.  I’m just sitting there thinking what the hell did he just do.

You know, don’t you think there might be a reason I pushed it away in the first place??!!  Thanks bud, you elevated an already salty dish to even newer heights of unimaginable salinity.    I may as well just sip the Gulf of Tonkin through a straw for that’s how this crap now tastes!  He looked a little hurt as we asked for the check without even finishing lunch.

I am sure proper bún hến is a delicious addition to Vietnam’s culinary scene as each of its ingredients (minus the salt) taken alone are good.  Let’s try to find a decent bowl of it somewhere off the trail in the coming months.  Since this was my first time sampling it, bún hến really does deserve another try as it’s more fair to judge this restaurant’s preparation of it rather than the actual dish.  And lesson learned…stay off the trail.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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