Bún Mắm Fermented Shrimp Soup – 175 of 365

Bún Mắm

Have you ever eaten something you just can’t tell if you like it or not?  Try to wrap your head around this ingredient list that comes together in a brown, highly fragrant fish stinking broth…eggplant, purple fermented shrimp paste, garlic, and lemongrass amongst who knows what else.  Part of any food experience is smell and the odor wafting out of the bowl from the shrimp paste is something akin to tuna flavored cat food.

Drinking a cold beer on an empty stomach proved a double edge sword.  On the one hand this liquid courage passed right through me to dampen my food inhibitions.  On the other hand, relaxing these very inhibitions causes me to eat things well beyond my normal comfort zone such as bún mắm at Huyenh Huong in District 1 at 64 Nguyen Thi Minh Trai Street.

Now malodorous air aside, the stuff eats quite nicely.   Fat ropy rice vermicelli floats around the bottom of the bowl and a motley of shrimp, fish, and pork are strewn within.  Let’s take a closer look at the pork.  Imagine one of those tree stumps we have all seen littering a forest.  These chunks of pig’s cross sections are much like that tree with various rings showing different phases of life.   We have skin, fat, meat, fat, meat, bone and so on all layered in one single swath excised from the animal.  In a way it’s like a layered pork tiramisu yet this one is definitely not as savory and only partially edible.

The white fish pieces are such a nice sweet taste until that random piece of bone turns into some sort of mouth acupuncute gone horribly awry.   One such sharp needle gave the roof of my mouth some unexpected street food medicine yet still did little to heal the strong smell of this soup.  Another piece of fish stuffed into a red chili pepper shell absorbed the shell’s spiciness and went down very nicely and mercifully bone free.

A medley of condiments infuse the soup with even more depth.  Purple water lily root, sorrel, fish mint, lime, chili peppers, and morning glory all mix together in a sweet and tangy combination I really cannot describe other than somehow it works.

Like I said, I can’t decide if I like this one or not.  The flavors are amazing unlike their fishy stench.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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