Nov 07 2011
As I’ve stayed in Vietnam longer I feel like I’ve slowly drifted away from pho. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still delicious, it’s just that I’ve been introduced to other soups that are chipping away from pho’s culinary alone time. One day, not too long ago in my street food infancy, I got brave and discovered one such soup: canh bun. Since that fateful day this has become one of my not-pho favourites, but I had no idea what was inside, so I decided to investigate.
Canh bun starts with a large rice noodle, usually orange in colour. The noodle is similar to what you find in bun bo hue in texture and taste but much thicker. Next, minced crab — which looks a bit like ground pork or beef — is added with the broth, and a generous helping of boiled morning glory is added to the bowl. From here the canh bun can get a variety of additional toppings including tofu, Chinese sausage, and congealed blood (which I usually skip). Like other dishes that have their roots in the north, in Saigon, canh bun is served much spicier than elsewhere — with my canh bun lady, a spoonful of chilli paste is non-negotiable. No matter how many times I ask for its omission, she just keeps adding it in for me.
Although the soup is a popular dish in the city, very rarely do I see it on the street — normally this is a dish I find at food stands in local markets. Canh bun vendors are easy to spot: since you get so much morning glory in your soup, the cart has to stock a fair share and what better place to do this than in a glass display case that is usually next to the sign. If you don’t see it, you could always ask a nearby drink lady, who is usually pretty knowledgeable about the foods in her market. On the stand or cart’s sign, canh bun may share a billing with bun rieu, a similar tomato-based crab soup.
Besides being delicious, if I’m ever stuffed up, I visit my local stand because she won’t take no for an answer on the chilli and the heat really clears my sinuses. Plus, her stand is right next to my drink lady and my favourite dish, bun thit nuong, so I feel like I have to get some canh bun every now and then. And, as you can see, she knows how to make it!
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