Think noodles and you think of noodle soups, especially in Vietnam, where the iconic dish is phở, with chicken or beef.
Vietnam has an enviable collection of different kinds of noodles including phở, mì, hủ tiếu and bún that are cooked and eaten in myriad ways. The last mentioned, bún, perhaps has the greatest variety of the lot.
A small change in the ingredients makes a different dish of bún. A restaurant specialized in bún can have more than ten dishes on its menu.
However, basically, bún can be divided into two categories: with or without soup.
While there are dry bún dishes commonly all over the country, southern Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City, accounts for most of them.
Eating bún with nước mắm pha (fish sauce mixed with lemon, or vinegar, and sugar), fresh vegetables (leafy veggies, cucumbers, bean sprouts), and meat (pork or beef) or other foods like chả giò (spring rolls) is very common in southern Vietnam.
A bowl of bún bì served at the food court in Ban Co Market, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
PHOTO: TAN NHAN
Bún bì perhaps is the simplest dish. Besides nước mắm pha and fresh vegetables which are compulsory accompaniments for almost every dry bún dish, the vermicelli is eaten with bì – long thin strips of pork skin and fried pork mixed with thính, a Vietnamese spice made from roasted rice or grilled rice paper, ground fine.
The bún bì counter at the food court of Ban Co Market in District 3 is recommended, because like many other foods sold in the old market, thebún bì carries the original taste, which comes from the fish sauce processed Nam Bo (southern) style – meaning that it is sweeter than the one made in the north thanks to the use of coconut juice.
Visiting the stall after 1 p.m. is a plus, because the market’s quiet then, and one can enjoy both the countryside market ambience and the food.
Ban Co Market
Alley 212 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, Ward 3, District 3
Open hours: 1 p.m. to 5-6 p.m.
Price: Bún bì (VND25,000/bowl), bì cuốn – fresh spring roll with bì (VND6,000/roll), chả giò or spring rolls (VND5,000/roll)
Bún chạo tôm – bún chả giò – bún bò xào
Thanh Binh Restaurant in District 1 is one of the few restaurants that offer an almost complete collection of dry bún in Saigon.
It sells more than ten dishes, but my recommendation is bún chạo tôm in which bún is eaten with chạo tôm – shrimp paste grilled on sugar cane sticks.
Other dishes include bún with spring rolls – known as bún chả giò, and búneaten with stir-fried beef – known as bún bò xào.
Thanh Binh is a good choice for those who want to taste a variety of dry bún.
Thanh Binh Restaurant
140 Le Thanh Ton Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
Open hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Price: bún bò xào (VND50,000), bún chả giò (VND50,000), bún chạo tôm (VND70,000)
Bún nem nướng
Nem nướng – a mix of ground pork grilled on bamboo sticks and ram (deep-fried bánh tráng or rice papers) – is a specialty of the famous resort town of Nha Trang. Traditionally, the meat is placed on rice paper together with fresh vegetables and bún, made into a roll, and then eaten with a special dipping sauce.
However, for Saigonese, the central Vietnam specialty can be eaten with bún, fresh vegetables and nước mắm. It makes for a tasty combination.
Bún nem nướng Nha Trang – Truong Tien
9A Ky Dong Street, Ward 9, District 3
Open hours: 7 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Price: bún nem nướng (VND35,000), nem nướng cuốn bánh tráng (VND60,000)
Bún thịt nướng
Bún eaten with grilled pork, or bún thịt nướng, is common in southern Vietnam and can be found almost everywhere in Saigon. But, I would like to recommend the Ba Tam Restaurant in District 3 for its original taste. The restaurant was founded nearly 70 years ago in the Ben Thanh Market, and later moved to the current location.
The meat is well seasoned pork and the fish sauce is mixed well.
Besides bún thịt nướng, the restaurant also offers chả giò, chạo tôm, andnem nướng which can be eaten with bún or rice papers, or bánh hỏi – thin rice vermicelli woven into intricate bundles.
Bún thịt nướng Ba Tam
299 Vo Van Tan Street, Ward 5, District 3
Open hours: 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Price: bún thịt nướng (VND34,000)
By Tan Nhan, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the June 21st issue of our print edition Vietweek)