Bun nuoc leo, the pride of Soc Trang Province

Soc Trang Province is known as the capital of bun nuoc leo (vermicelli with special broth made with special fish sauce among gourmands.

Bun nuoc leo, the pride of Soc Trang Province
Kicker: A bowl of tasty bun nuoc leo Soc Trang. Photo dantri.com

I was so excited when a friend of mine in Soc Trang recently invited me to her home, giving me the chance to enjoy the local cuisine.

 I was very happy too when my friend Nguyen Lam Kieu told me her mother would cook me bún nước lèo and would teach me how to make it.

Kieu’s mother Truong Thi Hong said the dish includes rice vermicelli, fish sauce made from ca sac (snakeskin), ca linh (Siamese mud carp) and bo hoc fish paste, or ‘prahok’ in the Khmer language, which is made of fermented fresh snakehead fish, field catfish and shrimp.

Hong said the dish has existed for many years and originated with the ethnic Khmer people in Soc Trang, though now many ethnic groups cook it.

Bun nuoc leo, the pride of Soc Trang Province
Kicker: Ingredients for a bun nuoc leo include natural raised snakehead fish, banana flowers cut into threads and many others. Photo toplist.vn

Cooking the dish needs careful preparation because the soul of the dish is the nuoc leo (broth) which is a combination between nuoc mam (fish sauce) and ngai bun (a root like turmeric used to release the fishy smell) and sa (citronella), said Hong.

To have a quality broth pot, Hong said she has to grind the ngai bun and sa into pieces then boil them in a pot of water and use another pot to cook the fish sauce and bo hoc paste until it is boiled.

The sauce is then filtered to remove all the bones, then the two pots are mixed together and boiled for another 30 minutes before adding a spoon of sugar to the broth mix to finish it.

Other ingredients include boiled snakehead fish and shrimp with their skin and bones removed as well as thin-cut roasted pork.

Bun nuoc leo, the pride of Soc Trang Province
Kicker: There are several recipes to cook bun nuoc leo. Photo toplist.vn

Hong said to have a quality dish she has to buy wild-caught snakehead fish and shrimp because they are much tastier than raised ones.

The dish is best with fresh vegetables such as water morning glory and banana flower cut into threads, chives, bean sprouts and aromatic herbs.


Hong said there are other recipes to cook the dish where the broth is cooked with bone and rib pork and shrimps over a light fire for three hours.

“During the process of cooking, it is necessary to get any scum out so the broth is more savoury and purer,” she said.

In other places people used white radish and coconut juice to increase the deliciousness and purity for the dish instead of using ngai bun and sa, she said.

Being fond of travelling, I have had the chance to try many Vietnamese dishes but the bun nuoc leo made by my friend’s mother was truly different. It had the flavour of bo hoc sauce in addition with the fragrance of bun ngai and sa.

While enjoying Hong’s bowl of vermicelli on a rainy day, I felt as if I was in heaven, the blood in my body seemed to be warmer and running quicker, giving me a feeling of delight and pleasure.

Bun nuoc leo, the pride of Soc Trang Province
Kicker: A tray of an aromatic bun nuoc leo dish which gourmets call specialty of Soc Trang. Photo toplist.vn

Apart from teaching me her secrets for cooking the dish, Hong gave me two bottles of fish sauce and bo hoc sauce so I could cook the dish at my home in Hanoi.

My friend Lam Kieu told me that if I wanted to try another version of the dish she would take me to Soc Trang City where many shops sell the specialty.

“Although the dish is available in other provinces such as Can Tho, Hau Giang, and HCM City, the tastiest and richest flavoured dish is only in Soc Trang,” Kieu said.

“We Soc Trang people are very much proud of it,” she said.