Bun mam, or noodle soup with fermented fish paste, boasts one of the Mekong Delta’s specialties. It seems to have originated from Cambodia. Yet it has put on many new Vietnamese features.
In Cambodia, prahok, which is a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste, is one of the key ingredients of the noodle soup. However, for the Vietnamese version, prahok is replaced with sauce of linh fish (moustached danio) or sac fish (snakeskin gourami). The good fermented fish pastes are from Chau Doc City in An Giang Province.
The broth of the dish is made of fermented fish paste. It is seasoned with sugar, minced lemon grass and green onion. To further enhance flavor of the dish, shrimps, squids and roasted pork are added. The salty flavor of the broth comes from the fermented fish paste while its sweetness is from coconut water. A thicker soup can be made by boiling pork or chicken bones. Many kinds of fish found in the Mekong Delta can be prepared for this dish, such as hu fish (pangasius conchophilus roberts & vidthayanon), snakehead fish, basa fish, to name but a few.
Lemon grass and chili are indispensable as they help get rid of the fish smell. In addition, the proportion of fermented fish paste and water must be equal to keep the balance flavor of the broth to avoid being too salty.
The noodle soup should be accompanied by herbs including keo neo (limnocharis flava), sung flower (Nymphaea lotus), banana flower, water spinach, etc. A small bowl of dipping sauce with lemon juice and minced chili and lemon grass will complete the noodle soup.
By Lam Nhu