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Oct 29, 2012 01:35 AM

Fermented Fish Soup BUN MAM @ Bun Mam Ha Tien in San Jose

After discovering Bun Mam at Bun Mam Soc Trang in Oakland, I have been on a warpath for this funky soup. I tried it at two places in SF. Ngoc Mai and Mong Thu Cafe both in the Tenderloin.
I love Ngoc Mai but their Bun Mam was the weakest so far. Too sweet. Mong Thu was pretty funky, and the broth had a lot of pieces floating in it. I'll give it another try. The strangest version at a strange little place.

Then I went to San Jose. Holy crap was the Bun Mam good at Bun Mam Ha Tien. This area of San Jose has upwards 50 Vietnamese restaurants. But now I can't imagine trying any of them. This was by far the greatest soup I've ever had. Less sweet than all other renditions, except their bbq pork which was like pig candy. I really don't know what else to say. Great shrimp, great squid, great fish, greatest bbq pork, greatest broth, fine noodles. Good fresh veggies (banana blossom included).

Oakland is a lot closer, so I'll still go to Soc Trang... also the woman who runs the place is one of the nicest restaurant folk I've ever met. And they have my fresh pennywort I love.... but It's now worth the hour drive to San Jose for 1 bowl of soup.

Despite the lack of yelp reviews (one being me) Ha Tien obviously has a following as they had a steady stream of customers at an off time on the Sunday I went.

Bun Mam Ha Tien: 3005 Silver Creek Rd, San Jose.

Bun Mam Soc Trang article:

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  1. Great, I've had a few meals in this nabe. Some of the places have handwritten signs posted that they serve bun mam though it does not appear on the printed menus.

    Have not tried bun mam anywhere yet. Only recognized the name because of your original post, thank you.

    1. Sounds tasty! I'm in San Jose tomorrow and will try and check it out.

      I tried the Bun Mam @ Nha Hang Saigon Seafood on Story Road. It was on their handwritten specials board.

      The broth was significantly more murky and pungent than Bun Mam Soc Trang in Oakland and also had some spicy kick to it.

      Very good shrimp, fish, and pork belly. There was also eggplant cooked down to a mushy consistency that I didn't care for.

      Just shredded cabbage, mint, and jalepenos were provided (no banana blossom)

      FWIW, a Vietnamese friend of mine says what Soc Trang serves is more like Bun Nuoc Leo (http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.c...) which uses a similar fermented fish based broth as Bun Mam, but is strained so it's clearer and less pungent.

      If you want some variety in Oakland, Trung Nam Bun Bo Hue on E12th St in Oakland has a version similar to Soc Trang's (clearer semi-pungent broth


      Nha Hang Saigon Seafood
      740 Story Rd, San Jose

      4 Replies
      1. re: drewskiSF

        Is bun mam now a thing? Or had I not noticed this dish before. That it's showing up as a special and as an off-menu item suggests it is. Would love to know more about its origins.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          from Mekong delta (Soc Trang?). here's a link i found that contradicts my friend saying Bun Nuoc Leo = Bun Mam

          does seem to be gaining steam with some new Bun Mam specialists in recent years and other spots (mainly Bun Bo Hue specialists? saw it also at Bun Bo Hue An Nam) adding it to their menus.

          1. re: drewskiSF

            Thanks for the links, just had a chance to read them. Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to ask my Vietnamese informant about bun mam and why it's cropping up these days. He said that this dish is from the far south, Mekong delta country where his mother is from, as your sources cite. He said this is the dish she grew up with. He described the fermented fish as gray-purplish in color not unlike shrimp paste, wet and very smelly and that it's now available in this country, perhaps one reason for the growing sightings of bun mam. He said that northerners recoil from the dish.

            Nem nuong post for another restaurant in this shopping center.

        2. re: drewskiSF

          Took me a while, but finally figured out why Nha Hang Saigon Seafood sounded familiar. Duh, I hosted a chowdown there years ago. Some how I never made it back for a second visit.

          I've got two more places to report on in Paloma Plaza . . . the shopping center where Bun Mam Ha Tien sits.

        3. Last night when 101 northbound came to a dead stop at Capitol Expressway, I exited and headed to the Silver Creek cluster of Vietnamese restaurants. I figured this was the traffic gods way of telling me it was time I tried bun mam for myself.

          I had steeled myself for something really stinky, so the fermented fish did not seem nearly as smelly as I had geared up for. Still pretty aromatic though. The broth tasted better than it smelled with a slight sweetness held in check with a bit of chile undertone. Like you, I was impressed by the textures of the roast pork belly, silky filet of fish, flower cut squid, and non-rubbery shrimp. I liked the Chinese chives strewn on top and the banana blossom atop the shredded cabbage. I used most of the veggies and mint, as well as the lime, to counteract/absorb the strength of the broth.

          I wouldn't say that this is my favorite style of Viet soup, especially at $8.95. But I'm glad that I've tried it and would be motivated to seek out a few other examples.

          1. Is any of the intact fish in the soup fermented, or is the fermented flavor strictly from fish sauce and shrimp paste/sauce? Or is the fermented flavor infused into the broth in a separate step from fermented fish which is then removed from the final product?

            4 Replies
            1. re: lebeauviolet

              I mistakenly wrote there was intact fermented fish in the soup when I first posted. There is not. Only fresh fish is included.
              I believe it is more than just fish sauce and shrimp paste creating that flavor though.

              1. re: kairo

                Thanks, looks like drewskiSF explained it as fermented fish-infused broth. I wonder why they don't use the fermented fish and whether that is done in Vietnam. I saw a youtube video showing rows upon rows of fermenting fish piles so it must be going into some another vietnamese dish... Fermented fish is also apparently part of Japanese (funazushi), Korean (hongeo), and Swedish cuisine (surstromming).

                1. re: lebeauviolet

                  From what I've gathered (watched a video), the fish (from one of those jars of fermented fish) disintegrates from boiling and is then strained out. Maybe you saw salted fish? In which case people would actually eat that whole.

                  1. re: lebeauviolet

                    Seems like some variations in styles.

                    The versions I've had in Oakland, like Soc Trang, have had clear broth that was probably strained.

                    The ones I've had in San Jose were darker / murkier and more pungent. There I think some of the disintegrated fermented fish is left in the broth?