Sóc Trăng Province is known as the capital of bún nước lèo (vermicelli with special broth made with special fish sauce among gourmands.
I was so excited when a friend of mine in Sóc Trăng recently invited me to her home, giving me the chance to enjoy the local cuisine.
|Kicker: A bowl of tasty bún nước lèo Sóc Trăng. Photo dantri.com|
I was very happy too when my friend Nguyễn Lam Kiều told me her mother would cook me bún nước lèo and would teach me how to make it.
Kiều’s mother Trương Thị Hồng said the dish includes rice vermicelli, fish sauce made from cá sặc (snakeskin), cá linh (Siamese mud carp) and bò hóc fish paste, or 'prahok' in the Khmer language, which is made of fermented fresh snakehead fish, field catfish and shrimp.
Hồng said the dish has existed for many years and originated with the ethnic Khmer people in Sóc Trăng, though now many ethnic groups cook it.
|Kicker: Ingredients for a bún nước lèo include natural raised snakehead fish, banana flowers cut into threads and many others. Photo toplist.vn|
Cooking the dish needs careful preparation because the soul of the dish is the nước lèo (broth) which is a combination between nước mắm (fish sauce) and ngải bún (a root like turmeric used to release the fishy smell) and sả (citronella), said Hồng.
To have a quality broth pot, Hồng said she has to grind the ngải bún and sả into pieces then boil them in a pot of water and use another pot to cook the fish sauce and bò hóc paste until it is boiled.
The sauce is then filtered to remove all the bones, then the two pots are mixed together and boiled for another 30 minutes before adding a spoon of sugar to the broth mix to finish it.
Other ingredients include boiled snakehead fish and shrimp with their skin and bones removed as well as thin-cut roasted pork.
|Kicker: There are several recipes to cook bún nước lèo. Photo toplist.vn|
Hồng said to have a quality dish she has to buy wild-caught snakehead fish and shrimp because they are much tastier than raised ones.
The dish is best with fresh vegetables such as water morning glory and banana flower cut into threads, chives, bean sprouts and aromatic herbs.
Hồng said there are other recipes to cook the dish where the broth is cooked with bone and rib pork and shrimps over a light fire for three hours.
“During the process of cooking, it is necessary to get any scum out so the broth is more savoury and purer," she said.
In other places people used white radish and coconut juice to increase the deliciousness and purity for the dish instead of using ngải bún and sả, she said.
Being fond of travelling, I have had the chance to try many Vietnamese dishes but the bún nước lèo made by my friend’s mother was truly different. It had the flavour of bò hóc sauce in addition with the fragrance of bún ngải and sả.
While enjoying Hồng’s bowl of vermicelli on a rainy day, I felt as if I was in heaven, the blood in my body seemed to be warmer and running quicker, giving me a feeling of delight and pleasure.
Apart from teaching me her secrets for cooking the dish, Hồng gave me two bottles of fish sauce and bò hóc sauce so I could cook the dish at my home in Hà Nội.
My friend Lam Kiều told me that if I wanted to try another version of the dish she would take me to Sóc Trăng City where many shops sell the specialty.
|Kicker: A tray of an aromatic bún nước lèo dish which gourmets call specialty of Sóc Trăng. Photo toplist.vn|
“Although the dish is available in other provinces such as Cần Thơ, Hậu Giang, and HCM City, the tastiest and richest flavoured dish is only in Sóc Trăng,” Kiều said.
“ We Sóc Trăng people are very much proud of it,” she said. VNS