Writer Thach Lam once famously wrote that Bún dọc mùng, locally known as bún bung, reflects the soul of the Vietnam.
In his book, Hà Nội 36 Phố Phường (Hanoi 36 Streets and Wards), he compared the aromas of this dish to music.
So it was with great excitement we decided to embark on this culinary concerto with Ho Nguyen Ngoc, a friend from HCM City who although had heard of this particular noodle soup, was yet to sample its delights.
We invited him to Bat Dan Street in the capital’s Old Quarter where one of Hanoi’s finest eateries for bún bung is located.
With tables already packed on arrival, and at least a 10 minute wait before we could be seated, these were clears signs we had chosen well, and it also gave us time to watch the chef at work.
First she puts the taro pieces in a large broth pot to simmer. They float to the surface, retaining their green colour, before removing and placed in a noodle bowl already filled with a mixture of pork leg, ribs, minced pork ball and onions.
The smells alone were enough to make us want more, before we’d even tasted our first mouthful.
”My mouth is watering,” said Ngoc, telling me that he could eat two bowls at the same time.
He wasn’t lying. Not long before bowl number one had arrived it was devoured at top speed, despite the temperature. Bowl number two was quickly ordered.
Cooking up this particular treat was Nguyen Thi Hai who, by her own admission, said making the dish is no easy task.
The taro should be peeled carefully and mixed with salt for half an hour then washed to make sure the texture remains crispy after cooking. Maybe our host was parting with too many of her trade secrets as she said this technique is often not done by her rivals.
Pork is clearly the meat of choice, but other cuts such as boiled tongue or trotters are also available on request. We could see Ngoc, our guest, was tempted, but after too filling bowls he decided to try other varieties another time.
It is not just the capital you will find taro. In the central province of Nghe An, professional cook Phan Thi Ngot is famed for her version.
She said: “The taro is available in our Quynh Doi Village so I often use it to make the taro salad to eat in summer to cool down heat and salted taro to eat in winter.”
Ingredients for the taro salad include salt, sugar, garlic, chili, roasted peanuts and lemon leaves. The taro should be peeled out its shell then cut it into pieces. Not too think, and not too thin, before being dried under sunlight or in a gentle breeze until they wilt.
“By doing this you ensure the taro is crispy,” Ngot said.
Once the elements have done their job, again the taro pieces should be mixed with salt and the other ingredients.
A refreshing salad in the summer, but also one that contains medicinal benefits.
“The salad helps to treat ailments such as colds and many others,” she said, noting that taro is also very good to help people stay slim.
Herbalist Trinh Minh, from the Quynh Doi Traditional Medicine Centre, said the taro is rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and particularly rich of fibre to effectively help those patients with high lipid and cholesterol in their intestine.
“I often use taro as one of herb remedies to treat measles and fever for children and indigestion for adults,” Minh said, adding that he agreed with writer Thach Lam that bún dọc mùng really is not only food for the soul, but also one to help ensure a healthy way of living.