Houston isn't at its finest in winter, when the wet, damp weather makes it seem even colder than it actually is—a fact which KPRC weatherman Frank Billingsley recently confirmed for Houstonia. But there is an upside to all this wet cold: it's the perfect time of year to experiment with Houston's many soups. Especially its many Vietnamese soups.
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Whether it's banh canh Hue at Simply Pho or mi dac biet at Mi Cay Tung, there are plenty of Vietnamese soup options to explore beyond just pho. Last week, I broke out of my own mi quang comfort zone at Huynh and ordered something other than the shrimp-and-egg-noodle soup that's so satisfying on a chilly day: a duck and fermented bamboo soup called bun mang vit.
Not all variations on this recipe call for fermented bamboo shoots, I later learned, but I was glad Huynh served its soup with the stinky version of the shoots. It came to the table with the familiar scent of stinky tofu, that Chinese delicacy that's increasingly difficult to find in Houston as the health department cracks down on businesses like Yummy Kitchen, forcing them to take the fermented tofu off the menu. (This sort of health department intervention is not limited to Houston; L.A., NYC, and China all battle to keep the notoriously manure-scented speciality on their restaurant menus.)
As with stinky tofu, the telltale fermented stench of the bamboo shoots didn't extend to the flavor of the shoots themselves. They were soft and sweet, though they had nothing on the sweetness of the shreds of duck meat served on the side. I understand that you're meant to dunk the duck meat into the ginger-laced nuoc mam (fish sauce) that comes on the side, matching it bite-for-bite with spoonfuls of the vermicelli noodle soup. Sometimes you don't have time for that, though, and—if you're like me—you'll just pour all of it into the bowl. Efficiency. The only thing that prevented me from eating the entire bowl was that its liquid capacity was greater than that of my stomach.
I enjoyed the duck soup so much, in fact, that now I'm determined to seek more of it out. And I think I've found the perfect place to start: the appropriately named Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da in Chinatown.