|Grub's up: Early birds at Bun Mam Ba Thuyen can secure good seats and enjoy meals in a peaceful environment. — VNS Photos Khieu Thanh Ha
by Khieu Thanh Ha
Whenever I go travelling, my first priority is always to find a decent place to eat at my chosen destination.
In Da Nang City, the location for my most recent summer holiday, I was fortunate enough to find Bun Mam Ba Thuyen.
Bun mam (noodles with salt fish sauce ) is one of the most popular dishes in the city which welcomes millions of tourists all year round. And Bun Mam Ba Thuyen appeared at the top of the suggestion list on the many websites and blogs I checked out in advance.
Bun Mam Ba Thuyen is not a high-end luxury restaurant, simply a family-sized establishment with no special thrills or decorations.
After checking into my hotel I headed straight for the restaurant, situated some 50m deep in a small alley on Le Duan Street, for a spot of lunch.
The restaurant only serves bun mam as its name suggests. It is a trademark tradition of the city for most food stalls and establishments to focus on only one dish. Therefore, if you dine with a group of friends who all have different demands you are likely to run into problems, as these restaurants lack the diversity you might find in HCM City or Ha Noi.
Friends in Da Nang told me the food in such one-dish restaurants is far better than in those which try to cater to all tastes.
As an early bird, I was able to choose the best table, from where I could watch Ms Thuyen and her daughter preparing the dish while asking them about the secrets of their specialty.
Thuyen, 61, has opened her restaurant about 30 years and retains the same passion for food that she first felt as a youngster.
"I have been a bun mam lover since I was a kid. I dreamt of making my own bun mam so that I could eat as much as I wanted with all my favourite flavours," said Thuyen.
"My dream has come true and happily my restaurant has become popular among not only local residents, but also tourists from across the country," she added with a smile.
The ingredients for bun mam are simple. Apart from noodles and fish sauce, the dish includes roasted peanuts, young jackfruit, aromatic herbs and pork.
|Dynamic duo: Bun mam and Larue beer - a match made in heaven.
Fish sauce, according to Thuyen, is the most important part of the dish. It is made from anchovies fermented with salt in the traditional way. The sauce is only ready for use months after creation. When it is ready, it gives off a familiar smell that many people would find hard to like at first but can soon become addictive.
"The flavours do not win people, especially foreigners, over at first. But eventually customers come back again and again," said Thuyen.
For a bowl of bun mam, the herbs are added first, followed by the noodles, sliced young jackfruit, with pork and roasted peanuts on top. A laddle of mam combined with sugar, vinegar or lime, garlic, chilli and a little annatto oil finishes the job off nicely
"At first I only served roasted pork and many people said the crispy skin of the pork was wonderful. But now, as the demand for boiled pork has risen, I offer that as an alternative," said Thuyen, adding that many customers also order fermented pork roll and pork pies.
When all the ingredients have been soaked in this "magic sauce", you can start enjoying the tang of the green chilli, the fat of the pork and the buttery peanuts which sit harmoniously with the typical taste of mam.
Thuyen leaves spices such as garlic, chilli and fish sauce on the table so diners can tweak the dish to their own taste.
"Some want it hotter, more salty or more sour, but most like it as it is because my mam has been perfected through my secret recipe. A big selling point is that customers are guaranteed to not suffer diarrhoea because of my mam," Thuyen said.
"Bun mam restaurants have mushroomed across the city in recent years, but over the past 30, the number of customers coming to me has only ever increased."
My bun mam is best enjoyed with a can of local Larue beer. Despite this, my favourite accompaniment is Ha Noi beer as one of my habits is to always drink the local beverage during my travels.
The beer was not what I would usually drink, but it actually went perfectly with bun mam as, after trying several beers, Larue was definitely the best.
After a delicious bowl of noodle sauce, Thuyen advised me to drink a cup of lotus tea which would partly wash away the smell of the mam and garlic on my breath before leaving the restaurant.
Bun Mam Ba Thuyen is open all day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Come early if do want to wait to be seated. If you haven't got time to hang around or cannot make it to the venue, Thuyen is always ready to package your order and send out a delivery.
I left Thuyen's restaurant with immense satisfaction and felt I now had the insider knowledge needed to perfect my own bun mam at home.
The secret ingredient - mam - must be brought from Da Nang. It is sold everywhere across the city, especially at Han Market where bargain hunters can often find a good price.
With Thuyen's wise words still ringing in my ears, I left Da Nang knowing that the only hindrance in my quest to cook delicious bun mam at home would be my own cooking skills. Hopefully I'm up to the task. — VNS
Bun Mam Ba Thuyen
Add: 424/3 Le Duan Street, Da Nang City
Tel: (0511) 3818 305
Price: Food from VND17,000-35,000. Beer VND10,000