Monday, 08/10/2018 09:28

Fancy a snakehead fish, head and all?

Chau Doc-style snakehead fish soup with rice vermicelli is a favourite at Bun Ca Loc Plan Le restaurant in HCM City. VNS photos Minh Phi
Viet Nam News

Diners in HCM City should check out Bun Ca Loc Phan Le, a new restaurant that will surely please lovers of all things fishy. My  Duyen reports.

Do you sometimes long for your Mekong Delta home and hunger for bun ca loc Chau Doc style (snakehead fish soup with rice vermicelli)  when the flood season comes, the time when the fish is especially tasty?

Look no further: you can now find the traditional delicacy at a new restaurant in HCM City.

Located on Cao Thang Street in District 3, Bun Ca Loc Phan Le is renowned for its snakehead fish soup cooked Chau Doc style and other snakehead fish specialties: fish head, filet and maw.

With a good street view and eye-catching decor, the restaurant is often full of guests sampling its nutritious, affordable dishes.

My recent lunch visit gave me a chance to sample their signature soup and learn more about Mekong Delta cuisine, particularly Chau Doc-style fish soup with rice vermicelli.

Most delicacies of the Delta, world-renowned for its wealth of freshwater fish, are associated with river fish, particularly snakehead fish.

Preparation of the soup, however, varies from place to place. Can Tho City, considered the “capital” of the Mekong Delta, is proud of its own style, while Soc Trang Province, Kien Giang Province and Chau Doc Township in An Giang Province have their particular versions as well.

The kitchen of  Bun Ca Loc Phan Le in HCM City has creatively reinterpreted the soup to match the taste and demand of city diners.

As soon as I stepped into the entrance, I could smell the unique aroma of the fish soup from the restaurant’s open kitchen.

The soups range from bun ca loc (standard snakehead fish soup with filet) to bun bao tu ca (soup with fish filet and maw), and bun dau ca loc (soup with fish head).

However, diners can order a mix of these, along with side dishes, including vegetables.

A standard soup bowl with seasonal vegetables (VND35,000), the most frequently ordered dish, was a great start to my meal, and a colleague of mine tried a vermicelli soup with fish maw and filet (VND45,000).

Despite the different preparations from person to person in Chau Doc, turmeric is one of the most important spices, and without it, the soup cannot be called Chau Doc-style fish soup.

Other important elements are dried finely chopped garlic, which eliminates the fishy smell, and fresh chillis, which imparts some heat.

The slow-simmered fish broth, limpid and clear, had a savory umami and pleasing sweetness, and was even more delicious when I added lime juice and fresh chilli.

Fish maw is a favourite side dish of diners. VNS photos Minh Phi
Fish head soup is a food delicacy for lovers of snakehead fish.VNS photos Minh Phi
Fish filet is a good choice for children. VNS photos Minh Phi

Like other southern-style rice vermicelli soups, bun ca loc is served hot with aromatic herbs and in-season Mekong Delta vegetables, including banana flowers, water lilies and rau dang (bitter herbs), and bong dien dien (sesban flowers) and string beans, a major difference compared to other fish soups I have had.

A bowl was not quite enough, so I ordered a side dish of fish filet (VND20,000), which can be dipped in the homemade tamarind sauce and chilli salt with lime juice.

The fishhead dish (VND60,000/head) and the fish maw dish (VND 20,000/small bowl) were the two favourites of my colleague. But I did not like the fishhead soup at all because it was too bony, and, to be brutally honest, I could not stand the fish maw dish!    

Since we were so full, we opted for no dessert, and as we returned to work, we planned our next visit at Bun Ca Loc Phan Le! 

Lovers of  bun ca loc Chau Doc style, as well as other authentic delicious flavours of Chau Doc in An Giang Province, can find their favourites at these casual restaurants in HCM City:     

- Bun Ca Loc Phan Le - Phu Nhuan, a sister restaurant, at 182/22 Le Van Sy St, Phu Nhuan Dist, Tel: 0937032270, open daily 7am-10pm. VND20,000 - 40,000/bowl.

- Bun Ca Chau Doc at 124 Vo Thi Sau St, Dist 3, Tel: 0934611722 , open daily 6am-8pm. VND25,000 - 50,000/bowl.

- Bun Ca Chau Doc Ngoc Van at 290b Duong Ba Trac St, Dist 8, 0986137893. VND25,000 - 35,000/bowl.

- Bun Mam Mien Tay (noodle soup with tiny fish paste, Chau Doc style) at 29 Nguyen Thien Thuat St, Dist 3, Tel: 0907970938. VND45,000 - 50,000.

- Com Tam Cay Diep Long Xuyen (broken rice with grilled pork and sweet-sour fish sauce, Chau Doc style) at 39 Cao Thang St, Dist 3, Tel: 0908797259. From VND35,000. VNS  


Bun Ca Loc Phan Le

Address: 159 Cao Thang St, Dist 10, HCM City

Phone: 0938662282

Hours: 7am-10pm

Comment: Good location, affordable prices (fish soup with vermicelli: VND35,000 - 78,000; side dishes: VND20,000 - 65,000) 

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