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|Bun nuoc ken is a curried-fish vermicelli dish that is special in Chau Doc - Photo: Phuong Thao|
My disappointment was soon relieved by the colorful local market next door.
Not a fishing town, but Chau Doc is all about fish. Mam (salted fish) is everywhere in the market, and there must be thousands of kinds. The local favorite dish is the rice vermicelli dishes cooked from fish (bun ca) but I couldn’t stand the unpleasant fishy smell, so there seemed no hope for me to enjoy this regional specialty. That was until I found out about a special kind of bun ca cooked with curry powder, which magically kills the fishy smell and keep the unique taste of fish vermicelli. It’s called bun nuoc ken, which completely confuses me, since the Vietnamese meaning only tells me it is some kind of vermicelli.
My cousin persuaded me to try bun nuoc ken and guaranteed, “It’s different from other fish vermicelli. You won’t hate it”.
He dragged the reluctant me across the crowded alleys in the local market to a small street food vendor and pushed me onto a tiny chair. I kept looking around, trying to find some way to escape. It would be awkward trying to swallow up everything in the fish vermicelli bowl without looking at it while holding my breath. When the old woman put the sweet smelling bowl of bun nuoc ken on the table, I had a change of heart.
“I always love curry, so it will be much easier for me,” I thought to myself. “Fish and curry and vermicelli. What a strange combination.”
The coconut sauce in the soup wasn’t cloying to me. The boned mud fish didn’t put me off my appetite. The curry favor seemed to be even tastier than usual. In short, bun nuoc khen was a completely pleasant mismatch with my expectation. Its main ingredients were simple: fish, curry powder, vermicelli, coconut sauce, chilly and a bunch of veggies, yet the strange combination worked magic.
You will have to hunt around to find bun nuoc ken in Chau Doc. Yet any local should be able to show you where to go.