What characterizes bún mắm nêm Đà Nẵng (Danang rice vermicelli with fish paste) is its stronger flavor as well as the addition of pork, slices of boiled pig’s ears and beef bologna. Yet the “soul” of this dish in Danang style relates to the dipping sauce made from fish paste, which is considered the make-or-break phase of the preparation.
First, the dipping sauce made from fish paste is diluted with water. Other spices—lemon juice, red chili slices, garlic, sugar and chopped pineapple—are added to the dipping sauce, which decides the quality of the rice vermicelli bowl. According to Danang cooks, their secret is the fish paste to be used must be made from fresh fish.
It seems Danang rice vermicelli with fish paste can be prepared without a hitch because the ingredients are easy to find, including fresh rice vermicelli (which is available at any market across Vietnam), boiled pork, fermented pork rolls, beef bologna and vegetables. However, a flavorsome dish must be prepared with ingredients which are as fresh as they can be.
At first glance, Danang rice vermicelli with fish paste looks similar to the Saigonese version of rice vermicelli with roasted pork. It is not the case, though. A typical bowl of the Danang dish has to encompass pork, beef bologna and slices of boiled pig’s ears. In addition, vegetables are indispensable, which should include threads of young papaya, threads of young mango, lettuce, beansprouts, and dill. Last but not least, a bowl of this dish cannot be completed without roasted peanuts, fried slices of red chili, garlic and lemon juice, which all are used to neutralize the stinky smell of the fish paste.
A bowl of Danang rice vermicelli with fish paste must have different layers in the right order. From bottom up are vegetables, rice vermicelli, and the toppings. Finally, the dipping sauce is poured on top of all so that it will permeate the other layers. When eating the dish, diners should use their chopsticks to mix the ingredients well so that all the flavors—saltiness, sourness and hotness, which represent the cuisine of Central Vietnam—can be tasted.
Diners in Danang cannot but salivate when being reminded of this dish. Although Danang rice vermicelli with fish paste is a popular plate, it has conquered the heart of diners across Vietnam. However, there is a side note for expatriates. The dipping sauce from fish paste has a very strong smell which is sometimes unbearable even to Vietnamese. However, once a diner can taste it, he or she will never forget it.