Diners in HCM City should check out Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê, a new restaurant that will surely please lovers of all things fishy.
Do you sometimes long for your Mekong Delta home and hunger for bún cá lóc Châu Đốc 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, Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê 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 décor, 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 Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê 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 bún cá lóc (standard snakehead fish soup with filet) to bún bao tử cá (soup with fish filet and maw), and bún đầu cá lóc (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.
Like other southern-style rice vermicelli soups, bún cá lóc is served hot with aromatic herbs and in-season Mekong Delta vegetables, including banana flowers, water lilies and rau đắng (bitter herbs), and bông điên điển (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 (VND20,000/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 Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê!
Lovers of bún cá lóc Châu Đốc 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:
– Bún Cá Lóc Phan Lê – 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.
– Bún Cá Châu Đốc at 124 Vo Thi Sau St, Dist 3, Tel: 0934611722 , open daily 6am-8pm. VND25,000 – 50,000/bowl.
– Bún Cá Châu Đốc Ngọc Vân at 290b Duong Ba Trac St, Dist 8, 0986137893. VND25,000 – 35,000/bowl.
– Bún Mắm Miền Tây (noodle soup with tiny fish paste, Châu Đốc style) at 29 Nguyen Thien Thuat St, Dist 3, Tel: 0907970938. VND45,000 – 50,000.
– Cơm Tấm Cây Điệp Long Xuyên (broken rice with grilled pork and sweet-sour fish sauce, Châu Đốc style) at 39 Cao Thang St, Dist 3, Tel: 0908797259. From VND35,000.