A classic mix of slender noodles, fresh fish and herbs continues to draw diners to the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa
Bún lá cá dầm at Nem Nuong Ganh Restaurant, 28 Le Thi Rieng Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
The beaches of Nha Trang, the capital town of Khanh Hoa, stay packed year-round.
The denizens of Ho Chi Minh City tend to regard warm, turquoise surf as the perfect antidote to the summer swelter.
But the locals in Ninh Hoa District (roughly forty kilometers outside the town) believe that the seasonal torpor is best cured with a classic bowl of soup.
The small seaside community has become famous for its bún lá cá dầm "” a light but nourishing meal.
Every morning, hearty women file into the town center, balancing shoulder poles containing bubbling vermicelli cauldrons on one side and jars of fresh ingredients on the other.
The essence of this dish lies in two ingredients: bún lá (banana leaf vermicelli) and fish broth.
Bún lá are delicate, slender rice noodles that are sometimes referred to as "leaf noodles" because they are typically sold in small round bundles packed in banana leaves which prevent them from sticking together.
The noodles absorb the flavor of the dish's signature broth. To pass muster, the soup must remain clear and subtly flavored.
The dish often features sailfish or tarry trigger fish because the flesh is considered healthy, rich and nourishing. It stands up to hours of simmering without breaking down into the soup "”which is prepared without bones, fat or skin.
First, the meaty fish is marinated in fish sauce, chopped green onion, chilies and ground black pepper. The fish is then added to the bubbling broth along with fresh tomatoes, pineapple and green onions.
In the end, the soup can be sweet or salty, depending on the cook.
It's plated with the delicate bundles of bún lá, mackerel fish cake slices, chilies and fresh lime. Bowls of fresh greens "” including lettuce, herbs and banana flower "” are typically served on the table along with the best local fish sauce.
The wonderful combination of pungent fish, tart herbs and light broth make for a wonderful antidote to the exhausting summer heat.
In general, bún lá cá dầm is VND10,000-15,000 per bowl on the street.