Châu Đốc-style snakehead fish soup with rice vermicelli is a favourite at Bún Cá Lóc Plan Lê restaurant in HCM City. VNS photos Minh Phi
Viet Nam News
Diners in HCM City should check out Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê, a new restaurant that will surely please lovers of all things fishy. Mỹ Duyên reports.
Do you sometimes long for your Mekong Delta home and hunger for bún cá lóc Châu Đốc style (snakehead fish soup with rice vermicelli) when the flood season comes, the time when the fish is especially tasty?
Look no further: you can now find the traditional delicacy at a new restaurant in HCM City.
Located on Cao Thắng Street in District 3, Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê is renowned for its snakehead fish soup cooked Châu Đốc style and other snakehead fish specialties: fish head, filet and maw.
With a good street view and eye-catching décor, the restaurant is often full of guests sampling its nutritious, affordable dishes.
My recent lunch visit gave me a chance to sample their signature soup and learn more about Mekong Delta cuisine, particularly Châu Đốc-style fish soup with rice vermicelli.
Most delicacies of the Delta, world-renowned for its wealth of freshwater fish, are associated with river fish, particularly snakehead fish.
Preparation of the soup, however, varies from place to place. Cần Thơ City, considered the “capital” of the Mekong Delta, is proud of its own style, while Sóc Trăng Province, Kiên Giang Province and Châu Đốc Township in An Giang Province have their particular versions as well.
The kitchen of Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê in HCM City has creatively reinterpreted the soup to match the taste and demand of city diners.
As soon as I stepped into the entrance, I could smell the unique aroma of the fish soup from the restaurant’s open kitchen.
The soups range from bún cá lóc (standard snakehead fish soup with filet) to bún bao tử cá (soup with fish filet and maw), and bún đầu cá lóc (soup with fish head).
However, diners can order a mix of these, along with side dishes, including vegetables.
A standard soup bowl with seasonal vegetables (VNĐ35,000), the most frequently ordered dish, was a great start to my meal, and a colleague of mine tried a vermicelli soup with fish maw and filet (VNĐ45,000).
Despite the different preparations from person to person in Châu Đốc, turmeric is one of the most important spices, and without it, the soup cannot be called Châu Đốc-style fish soup.
Other important elements are dried finely chopped garlic, which eliminates the fishy smell, and fresh chillis, which imparts some heat.
The slow-simmered fish broth, limpid and clear, had a savory umami and pleasing sweetness, and was even more delicious when I added lime juice and fresh chilli.
Fish maw is a favourite side dish of diners. VNS photos Minh Phi
Fish head soup is a food delicacy for lovers of snakehead fish.VNS photos Minh Phi
Fish filet is a good choice for children. VNS photos Minh Phi
Like other southern-style rice vermicelli soups, bún cá lóc is served hot with aromatic herbs and in-season Mekong Delta vegetables, including banana flowers, water lilies and rau đắng (bitter herbs), and bông điên điển (sesban flowers) and string beans, a major difference compared to other fish soups I have had.
A bowl was not quite enough, so I ordered a side dish of fish filet (VNĐ20,000), which can be dipped in the homemade tamarind sauce and chilli salt with lime juice.
The fishhead dish (VNĐ60,000/head) and the fish maw dish (VNĐ 20,000/small bowl) were the two favourites of my colleague. But I did not like the fishhead soup at all because it was too bony, and, to be brutally honest, I could not stand the fish maw dish!
Since we were so full, we opted for no dessert, and as we returned to work, we planned our next visit at Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê!
Lovers of bún cá lóc Châu Đốc style, as well as other authentic delicious flavours of Châu Đốc in An Giang Province, can find their favourites at these casual restaurants in HCM City:
- Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê - Phú Nhuận, a sister restaurant, at 182/22 Lê Văn Sỹ St, Phú Nhuận Dist, Tel: 0937032270, open daily 7am-10pm. VNĐ20,000 - 40,000/bowl.
- Bún Cá Châu Đốc at 124 Võ Thị Sáu St, Dist 3, Tel: 0934611722 , open daily 6am-8pm. VNĐ25,000 - 50,000/bowl.
- Bún Cá Châu Đốc Ngọc Vân at 290b Dương Bá Trạc St, Dist 8, 0986137893. VNĐ25,000 - 35,000/bowl.
- Bún Mắm Miền Tây (noodle soup with tiny fish paste, Châu Đốc style) at 29 Nguyễn Thiện Thuật St, Dist 3, Tel: 0907970938. VNĐ45,000 - 50,000.
- Cơm Tấm Cây Điệp Long Xuyên (broken rice with grilled pork and sweet-sour fish sauce, Châu Đốc style) at 39 Cao Thắng St, Dist 3, Tel: 0908797259. From VNĐ35,000. VNS
Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê
Address: 159 Cao Thắng St, Dist 10, HCM City
Comment: Good location, affordable prices (fish soup with vermicelli: VNĐ35,000 - 78,000; side dishes: VNĐ20,000 - 65,000)