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Jan 23, 2012 12:14 AM

Fermented Fish Soup @ Bun Mam Soc Trang in Oakland

Happened to be in this particularly colorful part of Oakland on Saturday and picked this Vietnamese joint from reviews on yelp that mentioned Fermented Fish Soup.

Having never had nor heard of this soup I figured I should give it a try.

The soup was excellent. Full of thinly sliced pork belly, some crispy (well not really anymore) pork skin, and what seemed to be a mix of fermented and fresh fish. (maybe the fresh parts were just less fermented tasting). The broth was a bit fishy, a bit fermented tasting, but also relatively sweet. Definitely a unique flavor, and not at all off-putting. If you like fish sauce than you've had stronger fermented flavors. Noodles were thicker bun bo hue style noodles, not thin vermicelli.
Apparently you can ask for shrimp paste if things aren't pungent enough for you.

My wife had a combo rice plate with shrimp cake, egg loaf, and bbq pork with broken rice. Outstanding all around.

They have fun drinks that are harder to find. This is the only other place I know of besides Little Vietnam Cafe on 6th ave (SF) that has those unlabeled fresh pennywort juice bottles. They also have the soymilk ones which are great as well.

On weekends they give free dessert, which that day was a coconut milk, seaweed, mung bean and tapioca noodle mixture. pretty darn great and not as overly sweet as some of those desserts can be.

They used to have sandwiches, which is the only other reference on chowhounds, but they no longer make them from what I can tell.

Sorry no pictures, but you can find them on yelp anyway.

The fish soup is their name-sake dish, and also seemingly most popular. A group of middle aged Vietnamese ladies all came in and gobbled up 4 bowls of it in about 5 minutes. Oh, you can get it with or without the pork. I personally would pick the one with pork...

Cash only. Super super nice waitress. Clean. Funky neighborhood for those that are concerned about that kind of thing. Next door to a fried fish joint.
They seem to be open 830 to 6.. (closed today, Monday the 23rd for the new year)

Bun Mam Soc Trang
1326 E 18th St
(between 13th Ave & Solano Way)
Oakland, CA 94606

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  1. FYI, they also have pennywort juice at Lee's on Larkin, although it's labeled.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DezzerSF

      last time I saw the pennywort juice at Lee's it wasn't the bright bright green I'm used to. Closer to the brownish color that canned pennywort juice has. I wasn't sure if it was a different recipe, or just older.

    2. I asked and was told the fermented fish makes the broth. The fish chunks in the soup are fresh.

      2 Replies
      1. re: drewskiSF

        There were some definite chunks of funky fish in my soup that day. Nice soft fresh pieces, then strangely chewy pieces. At least I hope that is what it was. Good all the same.

        1. re: kairo

          I am replying to myself to scold myself for not recognizing that those "strange fish pieces" were sliced pork belly. Woooops!

      2. The Goi Cuon (fresh rolls) are really excellent. Clearly made to order, and the peanut dipping sauce is very tasty. I've also had the Bun Thit Nuong with Cha Gio a couple of times and really enjoyed it. The noodles in that dish are perfect, the vegetables fresh, and the generous serving of grilled pork has nicely caramelized edges. The Cha Gio that comes with it is good too--not the best I've ever had, but solid.

        This is a favorite place for me--though I've only been a few times because their hours don't really match up well with my work hours.

        1. I ate here today for the first time. Arrived at about 1:15 PM on a Sunday, and there was a wait for a table. Waitress said the wait would be about 15 minutes, which was almost exactly accurate. The service here overall was excellent — super organized, friendly, gracious.

          Spring rolls were really good. The wrapper had a different texture than at most place, which led me to believe they use a non-typical type of wrapper, but I didn't ask. Maybe it was just really fresh? Nice peanut dipping sauce.

          Tried both the bun mam and the bun bo hue, and I really liked both of them. We got the "house special" bun mam which contains shrimp, fish, crispy pork, and thinly sliced pork. Noodles were cooked al dente—the same round rice noodles used in the bun bo hue. The waitress recommended the fresh chili sauce on the table for the bun mam, and this added some great flavor, along with lime and the herbs (cabbage, bean sprout, banana blossom).

          Bun bo hue was served with the mam ruoc (fermented fish paste) and the lemongrass/chili mixture on the side, so you could add to your liking. I really appreciated this, since it meant I could design a lighter-tasting bun bo hue. My DC ate all of the blood pudding, but I enjoyed the other parts of the beef in this dish, along with the same noodles and herbs.

          Hot tea was refilled regularly, and there's more on the menu to explore. One of their weekend specials is hu tieu nam vang, so I hope to try that sometime soon. One of the best new places I've tried in a long time, and I'll definitely be back.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Dave MP

            I got there around 2pm today. Must have seen you there. (Tall guy short girl couple) I've been getting the anchovy sauce from the weekend special on the side to dip my meats/shrimp from the Bun Mam. Pretty great that way!

            1. re: kairo

              Yeah, we must have overlapped! I was reading your OP on my phone as we waited for the table!

              1. re: Dave MP

                I was there around 2 PM this past Sunday too! Sitting by myself closest to the cashier.

          2. Ate here again last weekend and had another great meal. Once again ate bun bo hue and bun mam, but we also tried a broken rice plate with pork chop, and a bun with grilled pork. Also had an order of fresh spring rolls. The two soups were the standouts for me, once again, although I also really liked the spring rolls. The two dry dishes (rice plate and noodles) were both good, but not as special.

            I still like this place quite a bit and was happy to see it so busy on a weekday at lunch.