Classic Vietnamese: Duck and Bamboo Noodle Soup (Bun Mang Vit)

So many Vietnamese restaurants try to be all things to all people, with gargantuan menus that are pages and pages long covering everything from appetizers to noodles to rice plates and everything in between. Not so at Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da, which specializes in a traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of bun (rice vermicelli), mang (bamboo shoots) and vit (duck).

This tiny hole-in-the-wall, which seats approximately 36 people, is fairly well-appointed. Along the two sides of the restaurant, plush, lime-green booths comfortably seat parties of two to four, while a long table that runs the length of the entire room can seat people individually or together, community table-style. Hanging on the walls are a glass butterfly collection and flat-screen TVs playing the latest Vietnamese variety shows.

The menu is abbreviated in a good way. The key dishes have all been photographed and placed on a 4" x 6" card that doubles as a business card and to-go menu. When in doubt, you can refer to that card to visualize what you want to order. On my recent visit, interesting items, like the goi oc (escargot salad) and a bo luc lac (cubed beef) rice plate catch my eye, and I take mental notes to try them next time, because this time I've come to sample the signature dish, bun mang vit. For just $6.95, you get a full bowl of richly fragrant clear broth with the rice vermicelli and bamboo shoots, and crispy sautéed shallots. On the side, you get a small side salad of cabbage and duck, along with a small saucer of a special ginger fish sauce preparation.

I always request the duck without bones, and they give me about six generous duck breast slices. You can eat it however you want, dunking the duck salad into the soup if it so pleases, or eating the salad first and the soup second, but I tend to take alternate sips of noodle soup and bites of duck salad, dipping the duck in the ginger fish sauce with each bite. The ginger fish sauce is sweet and fragrant yet tangy, the key element that pulls everything together.

In Houston, I have yet to find a better rendition of this dish, so if you love duck and you want to try an authentic Vietnamese version of how it's prepared, give Bun Mang Vit Thanh Da a try. Due to the tight seating, you might have a wait during the lunch hour, but it will be well worth it.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham