When talking about the street food culture of Vietnam, we can’t forget to mention “bún đậu mắm tôm” – noodles with tofu and shrimp paste.
|Vietnamese dishes seek Asian Records|
Shrimp paste or “mắm tôm” is popular in many parts of Asia including Vietnam.As a matter of fact, “mắm tôm” or shrimp paste has long been in the list of “worst smelling foods in the world”. I know what some of you may react to this: “Ewww”, but come on. One of the reasons why you travel is to see (hear, smell, touch, taste, feel) the world in all its diversity, isn’t it? So why not give “mắm tôm” a chance? Besides, to you,” mắm tôm” may smell like a rotten animal, but to many local people, it is an aroma that makes their mouth water only thinking about it. After two or three times, trust me, you may feel pity for those who refuse to try this seemingly gross local food.
Basically, “mắm tôm” is made from shrimps and salt. The typical aroma comes from an enzyme which is available in the intestine of shrimps. Actually, “mắm tôm” smells exactly like the smell of the mustard-colored stuff in shrimp heads. The fermentation may take from six months to one year before mắm tôm can be served, normally with “nộm” sweet and sour grated “rau muống” water morning glory, “cà pháo” egg-plants, “thịt chó” dog meat and of course, “bún đậu mắm tôm”. You can surely guess, “bún đậu mắm tôm” includes noodles “bún”, tofu “đậu”, shrimp paste “mắm tôm” and, last but not least, odoriferous herbs “rau thơm”, which is optional but they will make the difference. “Rau thơm” can be basil “rau húng” or cockscomb mint “kinh giới”.
A dish of “bún đậu mắm tôm” in the street should cost from 20,000 VND (US$1), quite cheap, which is one of the reason why I love street foods. Of course, the vendors will always give you two options: “mắm tôm” or fish sauce “nước mắm”. But, you know, there must be some reason why peole call it “bún đậu mắm tôm” and never “bún đậu nước mắm”. Last thing, you may want to prepare some pieces of chewing-gum to have after eating this very special food. I do hope after reading this, instead of referring to “bún đậu mắm tôm” as “one of the weirdest foods”, you may want to recommend it to your friends as a special feature of Asian cuisine.