Rice vermicelli noodle soup, or bun nuoc leo in Vietnamese, is well known throughout the Mekong Delta’s provinces. However, this dish in Tra Vinh Province has a distinctive flavor. It is also a combination of rice vermicelli, roasted pork and broth. Perhaps what makes a difference is the broth prepared from fishes and prahok—a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste.
Prahok is soul of the Tra Vinh version of the rice vermicelli soup. The fish paste that is a highlight of Khmer ethnic people’s cuisine, which helps enhance the taste of the thick soup. Some other variants of the dish use other fish paste made from sac or linh fishes—the two kinds of fish popular in Vietnam’s southern region. Aside from prahok, fish flesh will be added to the broth to make it sweeter.
Cu ngai bun (auttum crosscus) is an indispensable ingredient. The bulb has light yellow color, looking like ginger or turmeric. The common spice in Cambodia has a mild fragrance of ginger, and enhances the taste of the dish.
The Tra Vinh-style soup is served with roasted pork and pig’s blood curds. Pieces of roasted pork will be wrapped in banana leaves while pig’s blood curds are served in a plate. A dipping sauce for these two ingredients are salt with chilies or vinegar with chilies. Especially, vinegar is made from coconut water and banana offering a light sour taste. Those who are gourmets will add some vinegar to their rice vermicelli soup instead of lemon juice. Vinegar pickled chilies give extreme hotness so special one should taste.
Cooks in Tra Vinh sometimes prepare deep-fried spring rolls as a topping for the dish. Diners should enjoy the specialty with herbs such as water spinach, bean sprout, chives, banana flower, basil, water lily, etc. These kinds of herb help balance the dish’s flavor.
The broth of a delicious Tra Vinh-style rice vermicelli soup bowl has a light brown color, emitting a unique savor of prahok and cu ngai bun, plus the soft white flesh of snakehead fish.
Few could match a bowl of rice vermicelli soup on rainy days.
By Lam Nhu