Bun Thang (“Ladder” soft noodle soup) must be ranked highly among the culinary specialties of Việt Nam. Part of the attraction of this dish is that it is not so easy to find and so one doesn’t get to taste it everyday. Moreover, Bun thang might taste delicious in one place but not necessarily be as good somewhere else.
People often have a party serving Bun thang on the 4th or 5th day of the Tết holiday. When one feels tired of the square sticky rice cake or greasy food like pork pie, spring roll, trotter stew, meat pie, bún thang is the ideal dish. This delicacy satisfies all the requirements for an interesting soup full of sour, hot, and tasty flavors without being heavy or greasy. Of the persons who have mastered the art of cooking Bun thang, Mrs. Sam in Hàng Bạc Street and Mrs. Mai Phương in Lê Văn Hưu Street are the most famous.
On top of a bowl of bún thang lies a layer of different ingredients, not mixed randomly together, but arranged so each element occupies a corner of the bowl: shreds of pork pie and thin-fried egg, soft chicken fillets cut into shreds, fluffy shredded sea shrimp, each in its place, each set off from the other ingredients. Most of these have a yellow color, though with different nuances: the ivory yellow of pork pie, the bright yellow of fried egg, the plain yellow shredded sea shrimp, and the shiny yellow of chicken fillet – all situated against the background of very white rice noodles. Several kinds of herbs can also add color to a bowl of bún thang: the fresh green of coriander, the dark green of basil, the plain green of flagrant knotweed, the jet-black of pepper, and the bright red of chilly.
No one knows the exact birthday of bun thang. Decades ago, Mrs. Am’s was the most famous of numerous restaurants in Đong Xuan Market. Since the first day of their marriage until their old age, many a couple went to Mrs. Am’s restaurant to taste Bun thang every Sunday.