By Tra Thi Phuong Nga
from Da Nang, Vietnam
Former Overseas Technical Trainee
Lived in Nagasaki from July 2011 to March 2012
I’m Nga, one of Nagasaki’s Overseas Technical Trainees from 2011-12. Six months have passed quickly since March, when I finished my training and returned to Da Nang City, my hometown. Although I am busy at work every day, vivid memories of my life in Nagasaki still fill my head.
I only spent 8 short months in Nagasaki, but I was able to experience a range of seasons, from the beautiful colours of Autumn, through the cold Winter and into Spring, with pretty flowers blooming all over the city. I was also able to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese life and culture.
Even now I can recall the green-line streetcar bound for Ishibashi, the library enveloped in green plants and the bustle of the morning rush-hour. The wonderful days of my training period may be over, but I was fortunate enough to be offered an experience which I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Now, I’d like to take this chance to introduce to everyone in Nagasaki, and to my friends around the world, some aspects of my home country. This time, I’m going to talk about Vietnamese food.
When you think of Vietnamese food, one of the first things that comes to mind is probably pho. Am I right? Pho is a kind of rice noodle. Today I am going to tell you about another kind of rice noodle: bun.
There are many ways to use bun, and I am going to describe a few of them here.
First of all, the famous Bun Bo Hue.
Bun Bo Hue
Although Bun Bo Hue originated in the city of Hue, it is also eaten elsewhere in Vietnam, much like Nagasaki’s famous champon noodle dish is eaten across Japan. ‘Bun’ refers to the bun rice noodle, ‘bo’ means beef, and ‘hue’ shows that the dish is in the Hue style, so the full name means ‘rice noodles in a Hue-style beef broth’.
This kind of noodles-in-broth dish is typical of Hueand the Central Vietnamregion. It is popular not only in Hue City but also in other areas like Da Nang City and Ho Chi Minh City. I was so happy to eat delicious bun when I returned home from Japan!
As for the bun noodle itself, Hue bun is mainly very thin, while bun from other regions is thicker. The delicious broth is made by boiling beef bones, beef shank, pork thighbone and pork trotters, adding lemongrass, various seasonings including the fermented seasoning mam ruoc hue and chilli powder for spice and colour. The difficult stage in preparing the broth comes with the addition of mam ruoc hue. The soup should be clear, but when mam ruoc hue, which is a deep reddish-purple in colour, is added, the mixture can become cloudy. The seasoning must be added carefully, tasting as one goes along, in order to achieve the right colour.
When the broth is ready, it is poured over a dish full of bun noodles and seasoned with black pepper. We then add green onions (scallions), Vietnamese parsley, salad vegetables, bean sprouts, banana flower buds, coriander (cilantro), pickled corms, pickled chillies, and a little lemon juice (or vinegar) creating the ingenious and delicious bun bo hue. We also like to dip French bread in the soup – yum!
This is just one example of Vietnamese food culture. Just as in Japan there are many kinds of ramen noodles dishes to enjoy, if you come to Vietnam, please try some bun!
○Bun Cha Ca – bun with fried minced fish
Bun Cha Ca
This bun recipe is a famous dish from Da Nang. Cha Ca is minced fish, which is formed into a circular or diamond shape and then fried to a deep reddish-brown.
The nutrient-rich broth, which can be used in many different dishes, is made from various differently-coloured fruits and vegetables including squash, cabbage, pineapple and tomato. This sweetly fragrant and ever-so-slightly acidic soup is very popular and has been well-loved for generations.
We add bean sprouts and other vegetables, and a squeeze of lemon, and in my town, fresh chilli to munch on. Alongside a cup of Vietnamese coffee at breakfast time, a bowl of delicious bun cha ca makes for a healthy start to the day.
○Bun Thit Nuong – bun with grilled meat
Bun Thit Nuong
Thoroughly seasoned salty-sweet sliced pork is rolled up and skewered, and then grilled over a wood fire. The cooked meat is then placed onto the bun, and instead of broth, a dressing is poured over. The dressing is made by mixing together nuoc mam (fish sauce), warm water, sugar, vinegar (or lemon juice), crushed garlic and chilli. Sliced carrot, papaya and so on are prepared in vinegar and sugar as an accompaniment, and mint leaves, pepper and peanuts are sprinkled on top. There it is – a delicious bun thit nuong!
Once eaten, the taste of the carefully seasoned meat, the salty-sweet dressing and the fragrant vegetables is hard to forget.
○Bun Rieu Cua – bun with crab meat
This dish helps to lower body temperature, and is thus often eaten in summer. The large amount of minced crab meat gives a strong flavour, balanced by the addition of fresh raw vegetables and thinly-sliced banana flower buds to make yet another delicious bun recipe.
○Bun Ca Ngu Kho Thom – bun with bonito and pineapple
‘Ca ngu’ is the Vietnamese name for the bonito (a tuna-like fish), while ‘kho’ means to boil, and ‘thom’ means pineapple, making this a dish of noodles in a soup of boiled bonito and pineapple. It is lightly flavoured and easy to eat. Thinly-sliced raw vegetables are added to the mixture. The fresh fish broth tastes like Japanese dashi, so if you like Japanese soups and stews, this dish may be the one for you. If you drink all the soup up at the end, you will be left with a sweet aftertaste.
○Bun Mang Vit – bun with bamboo shoots in a duck broth
‘Vit’ means duck, while ‘mang’ means bamboo shoot.
This delicious and easy-to-prepare dish of fragrant duck meat and mildly-flavoured bamboo shoots, with lots of lemongrass for seasoning, is great for enjoying as a family.
○Bun Cha Ha Noi – a bun recipe popular in the northern city of Hanoi
Bun Cha Ha Noi
The noodles in this dish are cut to an appropriate length to make it easy to eat.
The bun is eaten with a soup made from a base of nuoc mam, with added grilled meat and vegetables. Many shops serve fried spring rolls alongside. Unlike bun bo hue, mentioned earlier, which is usually eaten for breakfast, bun cha ha noi is generally eaten at lunchtime. One special feature of this dish is that each restaurant uses a different combination of delicious raw vegetables, although this does mean that those with sensitive stomachs should take care, as uncooked vegetables can pose a hygiene risk.
○Bun Hen – bun in freshwater clam soup
‘Hen’ is the name for a freshwater clam. There are so many clams atop a dish of bun hen that you cannot even see the noodles! Steamed clam broth is poured over the top, and a separate steamed broth is added to taste. This hot but lightly-flavoured soup has a splendid fragrance. For more flavour, we add salted fish guts from Hue, salad leaves, thinly-sliced shiso (perilla, a basil-like herb), bean sprouts, and lots of aromatic sautéed white sesame. This dish also features the ever-popular cayenne pepper – the red colour and spicy flavour really makes your mouth water.
○Bun Xao Long – bun with turmeric
Bun Xao Long
First, pork liver is stir-fried with turmeric. Then, sautéed vegetables are added, followed by the noodles, and the whole mixture is stir-fried together so that the noodles take on the taste of the liver, and the colour of the turmeric. This dish is easy on the stomach and simple to prepare quickly at home, so why not try making it for yourself?
A common sight in Vietnam– pickles and mam ruoc hue fermented seasoning.
○Bun Chay – bun with mushrooms and other vegetables
There are many vegetarians in Vietnam, and there is a bun recipe to meet their needs too: bun chay.
Since vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish, this dish is made from various types of mushroom (for example, abalone mushroom, shiitake, enokitake, and straw mushroom), plus tofu, daikon radish and onions. The recipe may seem simple, but time and effort is required to bring out the delicious flavour.
There are more than 10 different kinds of bun cuisine. At 15,000 – 35000 dong (VND) for a bowl (about 57 – 133 yen (JPY)) this cheap and delicious food is sure to satisfy anyone who eats it. Please do come to Vietnam and try some bun!
That’s all for now – I hope to tell you much more about Vietnam and my city, Da Nang, so look out for my next article.