Bumping along in a crowded bus headed for the border town of Chau Doc in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, between the grunts from a piglet in a rice sack, Darling Man asked the other passengers about the local food specialty.
The answer was unanimous (although there was still heated discussion): mắm, a fermented fish sauce that smells like rotten fish guts.
We were told lẩu mắm (mam hotpot) was the best way to try the local mắm, made from a small silver fish that’s only available seasonally.
And so after a stroll along the pretty riverfront, we asked a xe lôi (bicycle with trailer) driver where his favourite mắm restaurant was. And we were off.
Our xe lôi driver took us to a floating restaurant along the river, down the road a bit from the fancy tourist places.
Our seafood lẩu mắm came with small yellow flowers, only available in the flooding season, eggplant and a range of very Vietnamese vegetables: water lily stems, rau muong (morning glory), bean sprouts, banana flower and a “floating vegetable” that Darling Man didn’t think there was an English name for.
The first mouthful tasted very strongly of rotten fish guts. But after a few more morsels, the pungency transformed into deliciousness.
Darling Man told me lẩu mắm is one of the few Vietnamese dishes that isn’t served with a dipping sauce.
He said the mắm flavour was so strong there is no need to add anything.
Surrounded by the steam from the fermented fish hotpot, this nugget of truth, delivered with a very serious expression, was incredibly funny.