Black and smelly dish is a don’t miss Pleiku special

By Tam Linh, Phong Vinh    March 27, 2019 | 02:49 am PT
In Vietnam’s Central Highlands, visitors to Pleiku should try a black, pungent crab noodles soup that costs just VND10,000 (43 cents).

Bun mam cua (rice vermicelli soup with crab sauce) is a specialty in Pleiku Town, Gia Lai Province.

The dish does have a reputation of being one of Vietnam's most hard-to-swallow dishes, but intrepid visitors might end up adding a new favorite to their culinary experience.

Locals call the bun mam cua the smelly vermicelli 

Locals call the bun mam cua the "smelly vermicelli" 

Locals refer to this dish as "smelly vermicelli" to distinguish it from bun rieu (crab vermicelli) and other crab dishes. As the name suggests, the soup has a strong smell that comes from the way it is made.

Several kilos of freshwater crabs are washed and crushed after their shells are removed. This is strained with water and set aside for a day to ferment. The water turns black and gives off a strong odor.

The cook slices fresh or dried bamboo shoots and puts them into a pot of boiling crab water on a low fire. The longer these are cooked, the sweeter the bamboo shoots are, making the crab broth more tasty.

The broth has a signature black color.

The broth has a signature black color.

Besides crab and bamboo shoots, the dish also contains deep-fried pork skin or shrimp crackers and fried onions. Customers can choose between the side dishes of spring rolls, pork sausage and fresh vegetables. The dish is served with fish sauce and spicy minced chili peppers to increase the flavor.

The cook pours the broth over the vermicelli, adding bamboo shoots and pork belly, filling up about half of the bowl. Customers can enjoy the unique smell along with the saltiness of the sauce, sweetness of bamboo, spiciness of chili, crispness of the fried food and freshness of vegetables.

The blacken broth, together with the strong odor could make some first time customers hesitant to try.

The blackened broth and the strong odor could make some first time customers hesitant to try this dish.

Even though the dish was made famous in Gia Lai, it originated from the south central province of Binh Dinh and was brought to Pleiku Town by the people who migrated here many years ago. Many elderly customers say that the original dish was cooked by Binh Dinh families.

A crab sauce vermicelli bowl with full topping is sold at VND10,000 (43 cents). Visitors are definitely recommended to try this famous specialty. Some stalls also sell this dish with rice dishes and wine. You can easily find this dish in many places in Pleiku like Nho market (Phung Hung), Pleiku night market, Bien Ho cross-roads market, and Le Duan and Phan Dinh Phung streets.

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