Mắm is permanently closed
In a city where you can get almost any kind of food at any time, there’s something thrilling about a restaurant that does something no one else is doing. Whether you’re nostalgic for street food you had in Hanoi or simply love funky, pungent foods, you’ll be happy the moment you park yourself on a plastic stool at Mắm.
This Vietnamese spot has transitioned from pop-ups to a permanent location on Forsyth Street in Chinatown, and they specialize in bún đậu mắm tôm. A staple of Hanoi’s street food scene, it’s something you can’t really get anywhere else in New York City.
Mắm is only open from 12-4pm Friday through Sunday, and it tends to be packed the whole time. It’s a tiny slip of a restaurant, with short plastic tables and stools that spill onto the sidewalk in front and across the street. On a particularly busy day, you might end up using the outdoor window ledge as a table. That’s not only fine, it’s part of the experience.
Start your meal with something cold and sour to drink, like the calamansi black tea or tamarind juice topped with salty peanuts. You can also BYOB, and a six-pack of something like Heineken or Tiger, if you can find it, would pair well with the food at Mắm. They also serve Vietnamese coffee, strong and sweet, should you need a mid-day kick in the brain.
Although bún đậu is without question the main attraction, you should order a few things from the khai vị section, too. The surf clam salad, served on the half-shell and bracingly tart and spicy, is one of the best things we’ve eaten at a restaurant in recent memory. The stuffed apple snails, which taste like sausage that was pulled straight out of the earth, are another must-order. The same could be said for the semi-dried jerky with chili ants, or the mussel sausage. In fact, there’s not a single starter here that we didn’t wake up thinking about the morning after.
But likely, you came here for bún đậu, a woven basket of textural delights served with mắm tôm, a dipping sauce that uses fermented shrimp paste as its base. It has an intense aroma and a divine flavor that can only be achieved via the alchemy of letting something sit around for a while and rearrange its molecular structure.
You should get the special bún đậu at least once, since it comes with a little bit of everything: blood sausage, sticky rice sausage, grilled intestine, and pork belly, plus the base of crispy tofu, cubes of jiggly noodle, and a pile of pungent herbs. When you come back—and you will come back—you can build your own perfect bún đậu, whatever that means to you.
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Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm
The thing Mắm is known for, and an absolute must-order. Get the special version on your first visit so you can try everything, then choose the toppings you like best on subsequent visits. Our go-to combo is blood sausage, sticky rice sausage, and extra tofu, but do you.
The surf clam salad might just be our favorite dish on the menu. Thin slices of raw clam are served in a bath of lemongrass, chilis, herbs, and sour, fishy juices. The liquid is so good we’ve actually picked up the shell to slurp every last drop.
Bò Một Nắng Muối Kiến
This beef jerky is super tender because it’s only partially dried. Give it a generous squeeze of lime, then drag each bite through the accompanying pile of chili ants. It has a gentle heat and a pleasant savory-sour taste.
Chà Chem Chép
Mắm’s take on Vietnamese-style grilled mussels involves turning these tasty little bivalves into a flat, sliceable sausage. It’s herby, saline, and fresh, with a flavor that’s more like sitting in the path of a seabreeze than taking a bite of the ocean.
Ốc Bươu Nhồi Thịt
Freshwater apple snails are stuffed with pork sausage and a bunch of herbs, creating a bite that tastes like earth and water all at once. The filling is cleverly lassoed with a bit of lemongrass, so it's easy to pop out of the shell and into your mouth.