A bun with balls

By Tan Nhan, Thanh Nien News

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A bowl of bun bo vien (rice vermicelli with beef balls) sold at a small eatery in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3 / PHOTO: TAN NHAN
In the wide variety that Vietnamese cuisine boasts, bun (rice vermicelli) perhaps takes the cake when it comes to the sheer number of variations that it can be subjected to.
As a dry dish or as a soup, it is eaten with beef, pork, fish, chicken, pork paste, egg, tofu and other accompaniments, not to mention different combinations of these.
But, there is one variation that one would be hard put to find – bun with bo vien (beef ball), a common Chinese food is often eaten with mi (yellow egg noodle), hoanh thanh (pork dumplings), hu tieu (rice noodle), and pho.
While most bun variations can be found in most parts of the country, this combination is apparently only seen in the south, and even here, it is a rarity.
The existence of this dish is attested to by a small eatery in Ho Chi Minh City in District 3. Known as Tu Bo Vien (Tu’s beef balls), it has been serving this specialty for decades.
This combination is eaten as rice vermicelli soup topped with shredded green onions and beef balls that are of two kinds: with or without tendon.
Like other bun dishes, this soup is also accompanied with a dish of raw vegetables including shredded water morning glory and several herbs, and bean sprouts.
TƯ BÒ VIÊN (Tu's beef balls)
17 Nguyen Thuong Hien Street, Ward 5, District 3, HCMC
Open hours: 2 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Price: bun bo vien (VND30,000/bowl)
Besides the rare combination of rice vermicelli and beef balls, patrons remember most about the eatery’s homemade sha cha sauce, known as sa te in Vietnamese.
A Chinese spicy and savory condiment made with soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chili, brill fish, and dried shrimp, sha cha was modified by Chinese people when they immigrated to southern Vietnam.
As a result, the Vietnamese-style, or rather the Saigon-style, sha cha is much less spicy and has more flavors – sourness, fattiness and sweetness – all are lightly presented.
Tu Bo Vien’s sa te carries all these flavors in the right proportions with a light fragrance.
The sauce is added to taste alongside other dipping sauces - chili sauce and the thick, black Hoisin sauce.

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