Bun mam Da Nang, and actually pretty much all central-style bún mắm, might be the most feared food in Vietnam. It sounds harmless enough: thin, round bún noodles, shredded papaya, fresh veggies like mint and lettuce, roasted pork, peanuts, a squeeze of lime and chili sauce on top. But the mắm nêm is what gives this dish it’s character: a dark, pungent, fermented fish sauce. Sounds gross right? It’s amazing!
Bun mam Da Nang is definitely one of my favorite dishes in Vietnam. There’s so much variety in one bowl. You get contrasting textures: the crunch of fresh veggies, crispness of the papaya, crackling pork skin and softness of the noodles. The flavor profile is complex: salty pork, strong punchy fish flavor, hot chili and a bit of sour from the white vinegar. In fact, I chose this dish as the profile picture on our TripAdvisor page. I believe it represents everything that’s awesome about Central Vietnamese food.
The key to enjoying this dish is getting past the smell, having the right attitude and taking it easy on the fish sauce. I believe blue cheese is an apt comparison here. The smell of blue cheese is famously strong. If you don’t already love it, the smell certainly won’t entice you. Blue cheese doesn’t exactly look delicious either. You have to tell yourself that other people like it so therefore, it must be good. And finally, no one trying blue cheese for the first time would cut a chunk off the block and eat it straight. You crumble it on a salad or put it on a cracker. By applying the same reasoning to bun mam Da Nang, I believe anyone can appreciate and even love this awesome Central Vietnamese dish.
Where to eat it? Probably the most famous spot is the alley off Trần Kế Xương. There’s three different spots, and everyone has their favorite, so try them all and see for yourself. Another famous spot is on Trần Bình Trọng, in front of a plant shop just across from the entrance to the market. The owner, Ms Lien, sets up on the sidewalk each afternoon. Her little station has everything she needs to serve up a delicious bowl of bun mam just for you!