The south of Vietnam, with its abundance of rivers and streams, is known as the kingdom of fish and shrimp. In the days when seafood was abundant and there was no refrigeration, residents converted fish and shrimp into an alternative product called mam. The sauce made with the salted fermented fish is now a national staple, added to just about every dish, either while cooking or as a dipping sauce.
Bun mam is said to have been brought to Vietnam by ethnic Khmer people living in Soc Trang Province, according to Le Thi Ngoc Diep, a culinary expert who teaches at the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
“From 1990s, locals started adding different kinds of seasoning to original bun mam to reduce the strong smell of fermented fish used,” said Diep.
Bun mam is popular in many western provinces and the taste varies in different areas as people use the fish available in their area. The basic bowl of bun mam comprises fresh rice noodle, broth, shrimps and herbs.
“About 20 kinds of herbs and vegetables are used in this dish. Depending on the availability, locals use different herbs during different periods of year,” said Diep.
Bun mam’s broth is famous for its strong taste. By itself, mam does not have a pleasant taste, but it considerably boosts the dish’s taste when combined with other flavours and added to the broth.
First introduced in Soc Trang a long time ago, bun mam is now popular in HCM City, Can Tho and even Hanoi.