Bún mắm nêm – stinky but addictive

Bún mắm nêm at a street stall on Đào Tấn Str.

Four years ago when I was in a foreign country to study, what I missed the most from home was the food. All most every day I dreamed about going home just to eat Huế specialties and enjoy my mother’s cooking. One of the dishes that made my nostalgia worse was bún mắm nêm (rice vermicelli with smelly fish sauce).

I believe that among many Vietnamese fish sauces, mắm nêm is the smelliest one. Some people even compare its odor with that of a stinky shoe. However, for some foodies like myself, we are addicted to this distinctive scent. I often fight hard to keep my saliva from running whenever I smell its aroma. Like renowned durian, mắm nêm also “smells like hell, tastes like heaven”.

A bowl of bún mắm nêm includes rice vermicelli, raw veggies (salads, mints, pickled green pea sprouts, banana flowers, etc.), sliced meat and mắm nêm. There is a range of sliced meat for your choice such as chả (boiled ground pork), nem (fermented ground pork), fatty pork, etc. You can decide to have one or two of them or all for your bún mắm nêm.

To make it more delicious, don’t forget to squeeze some lime juice in. Some pieces of chopped lime, placed neatly on a small dish on each table, are so juicy and fresh. An extra bowl of mắm nêm is available in case you want to add some more into your food. One more spice that I never do without when having bún nắm nêm is red hot chilly paste. There are chilly pastes made of chilly powder but I prefer the ground fresh chilly paste which is more spicy and whose color is much more vibrant.

Bún mắm nêm is everywhere in Huế but my favorite restaurant is Mụ Thẻo (Madam Thẻo) located on an alley of Bà Triệu Str. For anyone who cannot stand the smell of mắm nêm should stay away from Bà Triệu Str. as it’s known as the street of bún mắm nêm.

A bowl of bún mắm nêm normally costs 6,000 VND. However, if you choose bún mắm nêm with rare beef instead of sliced meat, you will have to pay 1,000 VND more for each portion.

I think I love number 2 when it comes to food as I always have two bowls of bún nắm nêm, or bánh canh, etc. for a meal. People say that it’s better to eat in pair. And I beat it: I eat with a friend, and I even take a pair of portions a time.