Before taking my most recent trip to Saigon, I didn’t know just how many different types of Vietnamese noodle soups existed.
And even after eating numerous different types of soup, with many diverse flavors, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the variety and possibility of what’s available in Vietnam.
Along with pho and bun rieu, another noodle soup dish I didn’t want to miss, a dish that’s specifically available in the south of Vietnam, is bun mam (bún mắm), noodles in a dark murky broth, flavored with fermented fish sauce.
What is bun mam (bún mắm)?
Bun mam is kind of like a seafood noodle stew.
The noodles included are usually rice vermicelli, and the ones I had in my bowl were kind of rounder and slightly chewier than the noodles I had, for instance in bowls of pho, which were more silky and soft.
Also, unlike pho that has a thin clear broth usually prepared by boiling bones and meat with herbs, the soup stock used for bun mam has a far different look and taste.
The broth is flavored, most importantly with fermented fish sauce.
Helen’s recipe uses both mam ca linh and mam ca sac, which I’m not totally sure what the difference is, but they are two different types of fermented fish sauce used in the recipe.
Along with the noodles and broth, bun mam wouldn’t be complete without a huge collection of seafood, pork, eggplant, and chives, arranged on top.
Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu
Walking around Saigon, you will most definitely see a sign every now and then, often down a friendly and fascinating alley, that reads “bún mắm.”
One day my wife and I were wandering around Benh Thanh Market, and I remembered I had read about a bun mam restaurant that both Mark from Sticky Rice Hanoi and Jodi from Legal Nomads had recommended called Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu.
Get exclusive updates
Enter your email and I’ll send you the best travel food content.
Here’s a post about it in Vietnamese.
The restaurant, located immediately across the street from the eastern entrance of the market (Phan Bội Châu street), is pretty hard to miss, and in a very convenient, easy to stop position.
Being in the area, we jumped at an open table and I sat down to have my very first bowl of southern Vietnamese bun mam.
The first thing you get: shredded vegetables.
It just wouldn’t be right to eat a Vietnamese noodle dish without being accompanied by an overflowing plate of shredded vegetables and herbs – to me that’s the major reason I ate noodles.
While sometimes the vegetables are served lightly blanched, for this bowl of bun mam, they served everything raw – which I actually prefer, because it preserves the crispness of the fresh vegetables.
This particular plate included shredded banana flower, water morning glory, and then an assortment of basil and lettuce, and a few other herbs.
Along with all the fresh herbs, another thing I loved about slurping down bowls of Vietnamese street food noodles, was the bowl of sliced green chilies nearly always available for the taking.
These chilies don’t look too hot, but time and time again, I was pleasantly surprised just how spicy they were. Though they might looks like banana peppers, they have some marvelous heat to them.
If you add a bunch to you bowl of noodles, you’ll definitely come away sweating.
For myself, I think part of the reason I ate bowls of noodles in Vietnam was for these chilies.
The bowl of bun mam was served in a beautiful fashion, neatly arranged, the dark broth cradling a bounty of colorful contrasting ingredients.
The broth was rich and dark, and while I loved the flavor of the fermented fish sauce, which had a noticeably familiar taste to Thai pla ra, it was also very sweet, which wasn’t my preference.
But the the toppings, the chives and fried garlic, were wonderful.
As good as all the little goodies, like the shrimp and slices of pork belly were, the absolute best bite in my bowl of bun mam was the eggplant.
The eggplant was unbelievably tender and just saturated with flavor. If I could, I would have ordered an entire bowl of just the eggplant from the bun mam.
Overall, while I did enjoy the flavor of bun mam, this particular bowl was too sweet for me, and given the choice I would go for this bowl of noodles over bun mam just about every day.
Bun mam (bún mắm) is yet another widely available noodle soup dish you’ll discover in southern Vietnam.
The dish includes rice vermicelli noodles, which are slightly chewy and round in shape, submerged in a dark colored fermented fish sauce broth, all decorated with a variety of seafood, slices of pork belly, eggplant, and a bunch of fresh herbs and vegetables to go on top.
When I was in Saigon I tried the bun mam from a restaurant called Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu, located right across the street from Ben Thanh market.
As a lover of fish and fishy things, I enjoyed the flavor of the soup and the mix of ingredients. However, although it was good, this particular bowl of bun mam was too sweet for me.
This was the only chance I had to try bun mam in Saigon, so I didn’t get to compare it to another bowl, but overall, I liked the flavor, but it was too sweet. Is it usually this sweet? I’m not sure.
Other than that, bun mam is a wonderful dish, and it’s something you’ve got to try when you’re in Saigon.
Address: 22 Phan Bội Châu, it’s literally located right across the street from Ben Thanh market
Open hours: I believe they are open from about 6 am – 7 pm daily. Go in the middle of the day to be on the safe side.
Price: 65,000 VND ($3) per bowl, this is an expensive bowl, but it’s due to its prime location and the serving is of pretty decent size
Here the map: Scroll down until you find “Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu,” then click on it, and it should highlight the position on the map.
Get exclusive updates
Enter your email and I'll send you the best travel food content.