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Cassava Mania

The economic slowdown triggers memories of earlier tough times, but it also evokes a sense of nostalgia for many people from the central province of Quang Nam.

At a time of scarcity, from the late seventies to the early eighties, one of the food items that helped them survive was bun san (cassava vermicelli).

The special vermicelli originated in Dong Phu Town of Que Son District and quickly became a common means for the whole province to deal with the massive shortage of the main staple - rice.

Cassava roots were ground into flour and repeatedly washed with water to get rid of any toxins as well as any bitter taste. The flour was then stir-boiled and squeezed into long, white noodles through a holed mold.

Soon, this was not a substitute, but a dish favored for its fresh fragrance and light taste. Locals also found it firmer and longer lasting than rice vermicelli.

Bun san can be mixed with salads or stir-fried with fish sauce to make many mouthwatering delicacies but gourmet chefs are generally agreed that on top of the list is bun san ca dong (cassava vermicelli soup with the meat of freshwater fish, usually snakehead fish).

Culinary artists clean the fish, remove the intestines and season it with dried onion, garlic, sugar, saffron and fish sauce. After letting it marinate in the spices for about 10 minutes, they boil the fish for a short time to extract the flesh.

This is then stir-fried in cooking oil, crushed peanuts, salt, sugar and fish sauce until the fish is well cooked. An adequate amount of water is then poured, seasoned and brought to a boil.

It is important not to use stock made with pig’s bones as with most other broths, as it would spoil the flavor of the snakehead fish.

A good broth will have a sweet taste and look clear with a thin layer of peanut oil on the surface.

Cassava vermicelli fish soup is served with vegetables, whole or crushed peanuts, chilis and lemon.

The simple, cheap delight has tickled th e palates of both locals and tourists, especially Quang Nam expats living in other places. One place to enjoy a really good bun san is the Nha Que Restaurant at 51 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Da Nang City.

About one hundred households make vermicelli from cassava in Dong Phu but locals claim the best noodles come from seven family-run businesses in the town’s Hamlet 2.

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