‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ (Rice vermicelli with shrimp paste and fried tofu) is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable dishes of your life. Once you have tasted it, you would never forget it. It will forever be engraved in your mind with one or two of the following impressions: terror and/or fascination.
‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is a simple traditional food in the Northern Vietnamese cuisine. The main ingredients of this dish include fresh rice vermicelli, golden fried tofu, shrimp paste with lemon and chili sauce served with fragrant herbs such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce,etc. Like many other folk dishes, its affordable price makes ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ very popular among all classes of society, from the working class to the top-notch one.
‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is very different from normal food because of the specially made ‘mắm tôm’ (shrimp paste) which has one of the most extreme tastes in Vietnamese cuisine. It is not surprising that few foreigners could eat this extraordinary dish, whilst almost every Vietnamese (especially Northerners) love it so much.
‘Mắm tôm’ (Shrimp paste)
Known as the soul of ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’, shrimp paste is a sauce made from shrimp and salt through the process of fermentation to create the unique taste and color. Not only in ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is shrimp paste also used in many other traditional Northern Vietnamese dishes such as ‘bún riêu’ (rice vermicelli with crab soup) and bún thang’ (hot rice noodle soup).
There are usually three forms of shrimp paste: dense, thick (mushy) and liquid. These three forms are only different in the proportion of salt and the process of sun exposure.
In the beliefs of Vietnamese people, shrimp paste has the effect of banishing evil spirits. It is believed that devils are afraid of this kind of sauce, so shrimp paste eaters will not be harmed by the devils. Placing shrimp paste in the house will avoid the appearance of ghosts. Not only people of the lowlands like to eat shrimp paste, but also many ethnic people in the mountainous.
Some mountain ethnic people even have the custom that no matter how poor they are, there always must be shrimp paste to consecrate the deaths of their father because shrimp paste is often considered as luxurious, since the mountaineers live so far from the river where the shrimps are caught.
‘Bún tươi’ (Fresh rice vermicelli)
In Vietnamese cuisine, rice vermicelli is a thin form of rice noodles, round, soft and white fillet made from dried rice starch through the molds and boiled water.
In short, ‘bún’ to ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ is like burger to hamburger.
‘Đậu phụ chiên vàng’ (Golden fried tofu)
Tofu is a traditional food of several Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. Tofu is originated by China, made by soy beans, grinded then soaked in water. The starch then flows into water, coming together in the shape decided by the creators, while the waste is filtered out. The common shapes are squares, circles, or rectangles.
When the products are finished, they can be cut into rectangles and fried with oil in a big pan.
‘Rau thơm’ (Fragrant herbs)
There are many kinds of fragrant herbs can be eaten with ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce, etc. All washed, fresh and clean before served.
Originally, there are only those simple ingredients in ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ in order to make it as cheap and accessible to as many laborers as possible. However, as time flies and thanks to the development of the country, today’s Vietnamese can eat ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ with the combination of a few additional delicious ingredients.
‘Thịt heo luộc’ (Boiled pork)
Boiled pork is pork boiled and chopped into thin slices.
This is my favourite ‘chả’ in the world. The taste of its is indescribable. Trust me, tasting is believing.
Where to eat?
The are many famous ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ eateries all over Vietnam. If you are in Saigon, do not hesitate to check out the amazing ‘Bún đậu Cầu Gỗ’ hawker stall, my favourite ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ destination.
Adress: 202 Nguyễn Trãi, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh
Opening hours: 8:00am – 11:00pm
Phone: 090 833 57 78
Price: ~70.000/person (3.07$)
If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.