It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Vietnam is the land of vermicelli and noodles. From the widely-recognized Pho bo (noodles with beef) to the scrumptious, people’s all-time favorite Bun cha (fermented rice noodles with grilled pork), noodles are indispensable.

But have you ever heard about a dish called Bun dau mam tom (fermented rice noodles with fried tofu and shrimp paste)? Different from the aforementioned dishes in which the rice noodles are long and quite thin, the kind used for Bun dau mam tom is shaped like a patty and usually cut into bite-sized triangular pieces.

 The soul of this dish is mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) which has a distinctively pungent flavor. Photos: Thuy An

The dipping sauce – mam tom or shrimp paste – is the most special part about this dish. It has a signature pungent scent that might scare away the chicken-hearted diners. To make this sauce, finely crushed shrimp is mixed with salt and then fermented in a wooden vat for a while. After it’s done fermenting, the paste should have a thick consistency with a deep purple color. Since it’s very salty if eaten directly, it’s usually added with a bit of lime and sugar. Sprinkling on top of the dipping sauce a bit of black pepper and chilies would enhance the taste even more as well! Shop vendors tend to add a small scoop of oil (the one that they use to fry the tofu) to give the dipping sauce some extra greasy flavor.

As the name indicates, this dish consists of deep-fried tofu, too! The outside should be fried to perfection with a golden, crispy crust, while the inside stays soft, moist, and hot. Traditionally, this dish only involves noodles, fermented shrimp paste, and deep-fried tofu. But nowadays, you’ll find many toppings such as boiled pig leg or pork belly slices, pig intestine, green rice pork nuggets, and fried spring rolls, all of which pair awfully well with the dipping sauce.

 Nowadays, there are many extra toppings that you can go for when ordering bun dau, including fried spring rolls, boiled pork feet, and pork intestine.

The dish is also accompanied with fresh herbs and vegetables such as fish mint, perilla leaf, and cucumber. They add some freshness and aroma to help cut down the greasiness of the fried food.

Back in the day, bun dau mam tom is considered a street food dish and isn’t often served in a restaurant. The set-up is quite simple – a large pan filled with oil, a gas stove, a bag of veggies, a container of shrimp paste, and a plastic box with small square pieces of tofu. So, if you happen to find someone frying tofu on a sidewalk with that kind of set-up, you’ve hit the jackpot!

 The restaurant is quite spacious and able to fit many big groups.

While bun dau mam tom is still sold as a street food, many bun dau mam tom restaurants have been opened due to the insane popularity of this dish. If you ever want to try this dish, visit Bun Dau Tuan Troc, located in 23 Phan Huy Ich. If you’re the kind of people who care about sanitation, then this restaurant will surely fit the bill. The space is also spacious, able to cater to big group of diners. However, keep in mind that it gets very crowded, especially during lunch, so you might want to call the restaurant beforehand and reserve some spots.

The bun dau here is absolutely delicious. The tofu is crunchy and rich-tasting, the green rice pork nuggets are aromatic and slightly chewy, the fried spring rolls are quite big and packed with filling, and the boiled pork belly slices are soft with just the right amount of fat. There are a lot of toppings, even more than rice noodles. So, you might end up eating all of the noodles even before finishing the toppings.

Especially, the mam tom here is neither too salty nor too thick. It’s aromatic and strikes a nice balance between saltiness and sweetness. The shop owner is very friendly, also. If the shop isn’t too busy, he’ll drop by and chit-chat a little with you.

Hopefully, this article has perked your interest a little, and make you want to try this seemingly-intimidating dish.  

Address: 23 Phan Huy Ich, Ba Dinh District

Price: VND 20,000 – 60,000 (US$0.87 – 2.62)

Opening hours: 10 am – 2 pm