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Bun Mam - Vietnam's complex, deliciously stinky fermented fish noodle soup

Prav | Sep 20, 201205:07 PM

A Vietnamese classmate of mine told me about Bun Mam, a rarely-found noodle soup whose heady broth is made of pickled/fermented anchovy. This dish is RARE - only one place in Boston servs it, at Hien Vuong - a needle of a restaurant in a haystack of Vietnamese restaurants that makes up Fields Corner, Dorchester.
This hole-in-the-wall, cash-only spot was empty when I tried it around 4:30p today. The two older ladies operating it expressed disbelief when I ordered the stuff - pronounced something like "boon mahm", and asked me if I really wanted it. BRING IT ON!
Out came a huge bowl of murky opaque broth filed with thin vermicelli noodles, coarse chunks of skin-on salmon steak, shrimp, and squid. A side of the standard Pho embellishments, e.g., sprouts, basil leaves, etc., was presented.
Best ways to describe it: Rich, smelly, salty, heady, tangy, sweet & sour, spicy and pungent. Umami-city. I liked it. It has that underlying fishy funk of Prahok, the tanginess of Tom Young Goong, the complexity of a rich Pho, and some spicy chili oil drops skated around the surface.
I am happy to have found something so seemingly rare in our own back yard in Dorchester. I guess it's even hard to find Bun Mam in the Bay Area. Go figure. I guess I could see some people finding it objectionable - I seem to be a pickled fish person.
The other dish in the picture is "Fried starch", which was exactly what I thought the tiny thumbnail photo in the menu appeared to be deep fried squares of taro cake (just like the kind you get at dim sum), combined with a cup of scrambled eggs and a dipper bowl of brown fish sauce with chili pepper seeds.
Anyway, go and try this soup, especially since the weather will be cold and nast in not too long.

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