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Bun Mam - Vietnam's complex, deliciously stinky fermented fish noodle soup

Prav Sep 20, 2012 05:07 PM

A Vietnamese classmate of mine told me about Bun Mam, a rarely-found noodle soup whose heady broth is made of pickled/fermented anchovy. This dish is RARE - only one place in Boston servs it, at Hien Vuong - a needle of a restaurant in a haystack of Vietnamese restaurants that makes up Fields Corner, Dorchester.
This hole-in-the-wall, cash-only spot was empty when I tried it around 4:30p today. The two older ladies operating it expressed disbelief when I ordered the stuff - pronounced something like "boon mahm", and asked me if I really wanted it. BRING IT ON!
Out came a huge bowl of murky opaque broth filed with thin vermicelli noodles, coarse chunks of skin-on salmon steak, shrimp, and squid. A side of the standard Pho embellishments, e.g., sprouts, basil leaves, etc., was presented.
Best ways to describe it: Rich, smelly, salty, heady, tangy, sweet & sour, spicy and pungent. Umami-city. I liked it. It has that underlying fishy funk of Prahok, the tanginess of Tom Young Goong, the complexity of a rich Pho, and some spicy chili oil drops skated around the surface.
I am happy to have found something so seemingly rare in our own back yard in Dorchester. I guess it's even hard to find Bun Mam in the Bay Area. Go figure. I guess I could see some people finding it objectionable - I seem to be a pickled fish person.
The other dish in the picture is "Fried starch", which was exactly what I thought the tiny thumbnail photo in the menu appeared to be deep fried squares of taro cake (just like the kind you get at dim sum), combined with a cup of scrambled eggs and a dipper bowl of brown fish sauce with chili pepper seeds.
Anyway, go and try this soup, especially since the weather will be cold and nast in not too long.

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  1. StriperGuy RE: Prav Sep 21, 2012 06:39 AM

    You do like your funky fish. That fish paste at Thai North was even a bit much for me...

    1. divinebaboon RE: Prav Sep 23, 2012 04:37 PM

      Just ate a bowl of this for lunch today, wasn't as unpleasant as I expected. I can only taste a hint of fishiniess. I liked it! My roommate who came with me to Hien Vuong couldn't stand the fishiness however. It's to be expected since fish sauce isn't part of his culture.

      1. galleygirl RE: Prav Sep 25, 2012 06:42 PM

        Fabulous heads up; can't wait to go try it! Was the fish paste at Thai North the one made from anchovy intestines?

        4 Replies
        1. re: galleygirl
          Prav RE: galleygirl Sep 25, 2012 07:36 PM

          Not sure. It was very fishy, though, even more so than the Bun Mam.

          1. re: Prav
            ix9 RE: Prav Nov 16, 2012 10:20 AM

            the cambodan/khmer places in Lowell and Providence are big into fermented fish dishes of all sorts. and some of the most "sour" soups youll ever try - nice find

            1. re: ix9
              ScubaSteve RE: ix9 Nov 16, 2012 10:41 AM

              Can you suggest a place in Lowell that does this particularly well?

            2. re: Prav
              clamdining RE: Prav Jan 20, 2013 11:50 PM

              Which dish at Thai North are you referring to? Is it the khanom jeen nam yaa (which I find fairly mild) or something else?

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