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Hẻm Gems: Bún Bò Đà Nẵng Will Change How You Feel About Bún Bò in Saigon

Have you ever wondered who named our food? Oftentimes I do, and I daydream of traveling back in time to those monumental moments in the past when a famous dish or ingredient earned its title to slap some sense into the people who named them.

Historically, food naming conventions have been controversial, to say the least, and a complete tomfoolery, to say the worst. Among the most glaring examples include: crab Rangoon is as Burmese as ranch dipping; there are no Singaporean stir-fried noodles in Singapore; Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem; and bún bò Huế in Saigon is virtually a stranger from their central Vietnam counterparts. As someone who greatly enjoys sampling culinary novelties, I am always excited to learn that an alternative to a familiar dish exists, such as how there are different versions of bánh căn in every province as one makes their way down the central coastline.

The humble location of Quán Bà Dzũ.

When our colleague, a born-and-bred Đà Nẵng resident, alluded to the existence of bún bò Đà Nẵng over lunch one day, an animated but friendly commotion broke out in the office as everyone chimed in with their take on which bún bò in Vietnam they like best. As I’ve always found bún bò in Saigon to be mediocre, I had no horse in this race, but I knew right then that I had to get my taste buds acquainted with bún bò Đà Nẵng as soon as possible.

To my surprise, this cart serves some of the most delicious teas I've tasted at this price point.

One auspicious night in November, we decided to make a trek for the wondrous world of Đà Nẵng cuisine that Quán Bà Dzũ, an elusive eatery suggested by our Đà Nẵng-born Saigoneer, has to offer. She only knew of it but had never been. “If it turns out to be bad, don’t blame me,” she warned. Fortunately, Quán Bà Dzũ’s scrumptious platter of Đà Nẵng delicacies was both authentic and finger-linkin’ good.

Bà Dzũ is the nickname of the main cook, who, despite the name, is a dude.

Making our way to this secret spot, I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t envision it to be so…diminutive. A takeaway bubble tea cart sat in front of the humble hẻm house, basking in warm yellow light. Walking past it, one will face a dining area so narrow it can only fit three sets of low bamboo tables. Our band of eight people quickly commandeered two of them and completely blocked the way into the kitchen behind. It was cozy and, to be honest, really fun, though I felt sorry for patrons on the other table who had to suffer through the relentless chirping of hangry Saigoneers.

From left to right: bún bò Đà Nẵng, bún cá cam, mì Quảng, bún mắm nêm.

Apart from Đà Nẵng-style bún bò, Quán Bà Dzũ’s menu also features four other savory specialties from the coastal town — including mì Quảng, bún cá cam, bún mắm nêm, and bún lòng xào nghệ — and a few unique chè options. Naturally, we just had to order everything on the menu, because where else in the city can one get their hands on this many Đà Nẵng noodles in one place?

Bún bò Đà Nẵng

If Saigon’s standard bún bò Huế will immediately punch you in the face with how intensely beefy it is, bún bò Đà Nẵng has an elegant broth that’s subtle and more elegant to the palate. In Đà Nẵng, locals would refer to the dish as bún bò giò heo, thanks to the prominent pork knuckle, and the broth is usually made from just pig bones or a mix of pig and beef bones. The noodle strands are finer and thus are much more effective in retaining the broth flavors, and the addition of pickled shallot slices and carrot cubes is a fun touch.

Verdict: 5/5

Mì Quảng

Quán Bà Dzũ’s mì Quảng is substantial with heaps of toppings and protein, but considering the noodle dish’s popularity in Saigon, you can certainly find more excellent options, such as Mì Quảng Trí Hội An.

Verdict: 3/5

Bún cá cam

The broth is the star of bún cá cam.

A uniquely Đà Nẵng fish noodles, bún cá cam is made from a local ocean fish found across the central coast, but the standout element here is definitely the tangy soup, which takes on some sweet notes from chunks of cabbage and squash. The choice of vegetables might surprise Saigoneers at first bite, but they blend in like a match made in food heaven.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Bún mắm nêm

Of all the Darwinian forces of the world, an ability to relish mắm is my personal pick for the one attribute that will separate survivors from perishers should our society come to an apocalyptic end. Among the eight in our party, only my Đà Nẵng colleague and I could tuck into these pungent mixed noodles. Here, bún mắm nêm is enjoyed with slices of crunchy pig ears and shredded young papaya. Overall, both of us agreed that the noodle dish is decent, but is a level beneath Bún Mắm Nêm Dì Bảy.

Verdict: 3/5 

Bún lòng xào nghệ

Unfortunately, the bowl we ate during our visit had an unpleasant smell.

With just offal stir-fried with turmeric, chives, and onions on a bed of bún, this is the simplest of the five main dishes. Even though the texture and taste are great, we can’t get over the faint whiff of unpleasant aroma in the pieces of protein.

Verdict: 2/5

Chè kê

Sweet and sticky.

One might mistake this golden dessert for corn, but it is made from millet, a grain rarely seen in Vietnam’s culinary map today. In Đà Nẵng, families often make this for đám giỗ, accompanied by mung bean paste. Chè kê has an intriguing texture but gets boring after a few spoonfuls as there is no counter in texture or taste to the sweetness.

Verdict: 2.5/5

The power trio.

Wide-eyed and uneducated on Đà Nẵng fare, I consider our trip to Quán Bà Dzũ both a revelation and a huge success, especially after our Đà Nẵng colleague gave her stamp of approval. The small dining area might make Quán Bà Dzũ a tough sell for big groups — even though they hosted us with utmost hospitality and grace — but their version of light, perfectly balanced bún bò will surely become a frequent takeaway order for homesick Đà Nẵng residents in Saigon, or Saigoneers feeling estranged from the city’s bodacious bún bò Huế, like me.

Quán Bà Dzũ is open from 9am to 12am.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 3.5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 3/5

Khôi loves curry, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Quán Bà Dzũ

53/70 Trần Khánh Dư, Tân Định Ward, D1, HCMC

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