The dish has a reputation of being one of Vietnam’s most hard-to-swallow dishes, but intrepid visitors might end up adding a new favourite to their culinary experiences.
Locals refer to this dish as "smelly vermicelli" to distinguish it from bun rieu (crab vermicelli) and other crab dishes. As the name suggests, the soup has a strong smell that comes from the way it is made.
Several kilos of freshwater crabs are washed and crushed after their shells are removed. This is strained with water and set aside for a day to ferment. The water turns black and gives off a strong odour.
The cook slices fresh or dried bamboo shoots and puts them into a pot of boiling crab water on a low fire. The longer these are cooked, the sweeter the bamboo shoots are, making the crab broth even tastier.
Besides crab and bamboo shoots, the dish also contains deep-fried pork skin or shrimp crackers and fried onions. Customers can choose between the side dishes of spring rolls, pork sausage and fresh vegetables. The dish is served with fish sauce and spicy minced chili peppers to increase the flavour.
The cook pours the broth over the vermicelli, adding bamboo shoots and pork belly, filling up about half of the bowl. Customers can enjoy the unique smell along with the saltiness of the sauce, sweetness of the bamboo, spiciness of the chili, crispness of the fried food and freshness of the vegetables.
Even though the dish was made famous in Gia Lai, it originated in the South Central province of Binh Dinh and was brought to Pleiku Town by the people who migrated here many years ago. Many elderly customers say that the original dish was cooked by Binh Dinh families.
A bowl of crab sauce vermicelli with full toppings is sold at VND10,000 (43 cents).