Southern delicacy: bun bo cay
Visitors to the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu should not miss the chance to try savory bun bo cay (spicy vermicelli with beef), one of the province’s delectable specialties.
Although bun bo cay is available in other Mekong Delta provinces, the dish tastes best in Bac Lieu, 280 kilometers from southern hub Ho Chi Minh City, where it originated.
The dish is similar to bo kho (beef stew) but the recipe is simpler.
Different kinds of beef such as lean beef or beef tendon are cooked with sate, a condiment comprising roasted ground chili and garlic.
Fresh chili can also be added, giving the dish an inviting bright red color.
The tender cooked beef is served with bun (rice vermicelli).
But unlike bo kho, bun bo cay does not include carrot, potato, sweet potato or onion.
The flavor is enhanced with a sauce made from pounded unrefined salt, fresh chili and lemon juice.
The spiciness from chili and the sourness from lemon combine with the beef to give the dish a distinct flavor.
The delicacy can be eaten with several kinds of seasoning herbs and aficionados say bun bo cay tastes best when served hot.
The spices and the heat make diners perspire profusely, which enthusiasts say is beneficial to health.
The pungent taste of sate makes the dish unique in Bac Lieu and all over the Mekong Delta, where people do not usually fancy spicy food, unlike those living in the central region.
The bun bo cay recipe is simple and there are many shops selling the dish throughout the province.
However, Minh Nguyet, who sells bun bo cay at the corner of Cai Market in Ward 1 of Bac Lieu Town, cooks it best.
Although she has only a basic setup and often moves, her shop is always crowded.
Reports of her bun bo cay expertise has even made it onto several newspapers.
What makes her cooking so special is the pungent savor of sate and the tender-but-not-too-greasy beef.
The special recipe was passed on from Nguyet’s grandfather to her father and uncle who were chefs before 1975.
Her father, in turn, handed the recipe down to Nguyet over three decades ago.