I investigates the irresistible dish that smells as bad as it tastes good. Photos by Francis Roux. The article was published on Word Hanoi Magazine Issue September 2013.
First, the fermented fish sauce is poured over boiling oil, mixed with a little sugar, vinegar and lemon or kumquat juice. Then it’s stirred until blended. That’s the way to enjoy fermented fish sauce, or mam tom.
Though mam tom is notorious for its strong smell and perennially listed among the worst-smelling foods in Asian cuisine, someone who gives it a chance will surely fall in love with it. If you’re looking for a comparison, think of durian. People who can’t stand its smell often think of it as both bad in smell and taste, whereas many others — really anyone who’s tried it once — can almost feel their mouths watering when just thinking of its aroma.
Mam tom is made of shrimps and salt. The process of fermentation takes from six months to one year. Once fermented, this purple-coloured sauce can be served with a lot of vegetables, seafood and meat; however, it is especially famous with dog meat (thit cho) and of course, tofu and noodle — bun dau. This simple but tasty combo is getting more and more appealing among young people across the country.