Bun Thang and Cha Ca La Vong (Hanoi Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill) are two traditional dishes that will give you a taste of Hanoi cuisine.
Bun Thang is an elegant chicken noodle soup of Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. It is a noodle soup that is particular in all the toppings being cut the same beautiful thin strands. It consists of rice vermicelli noodles in a chicken and sometimes pork broth, salted dried shrimp floss, and delicate thin strands of shredded chicken, Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua/Gio Lua), scrambled eggs and shiitake mushrooms.
The bowl is beautifully garnished with green onions, Vietnamese coriander (Rau Ram), fried shallots, a few slices of red chili peppers, a wedge of lemon and a dollop of fermented shrimp paste on the side for those who like to enhance the flavor of the broth a bit more on their own.
Shrimp paste has a strong pungent smell on its own. However, when added into the broth, the pungent smell is no longer noticeable, and it gives the broth a nice earthy aroma.
This sophisticated Northern Vietnamese noodle soup is a result of using up all the leftover foods at the end of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration known as Tet.
Like all Vietnamese noodle soups, a true broth needs to be flavorful and clear. It’s is made by simmering chicken bones, dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and roasted aromatics such as onions, shallots and ginger. Sometimes pork bones are added for more flavor, like in my recipe below. The shiitake mushroom is added towards the end of cooking to prevent browning the broth. The broth is kept clear by frequently skimming the surface and simmering the stock on very low heat. The finished broth is clear with a nice aroma.
Bun Thang is mild in flavor compared to other Vietnamese noodle dishes to represent the sophisticated clean palate of Northern Vietnam.
What Does Bun Thang Mean?
Bún translates to rice vermicelli and Thang comes from Thang Thuốc, which means a unit of Chinese herbal medicine. Bun Thang is topped with a little amount of everything laid out in a very organized way, much like a Chinese herbal doctor laying out the different amounts of herbal medicines before combining everything into a satchel.
Hanoi Noodle Soup with Pork, Chicken and Shrimp (Bun Thang)
- 2 large shallots (about 4 oz total)
- 2 small yellow onions (about 9 oz total)
- 1 large piece fresh ginger (about 2 oz)
- 2 lbs pork neckbones or pork shanks
- 2 teaspoons salt for cleaning (divided)
- 2 skin-on chicken breasts
- 4 liters water for stock
- Dried salted shrimp (about 50 grams; divided)
- 10 large shiitake mushrooms
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- A bit of vegetable oil for frying eggs
- Vietnamese ham (Gio Lua/Cha Lua)
- 1 package rice vermicelli (Bun)
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock powder
- 30 grams rock sugar
- 1-1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon MSG
- 1 bunch green onions (slice thin)
- 1 bunch Vietnamese coriander (Rau Ram; use only the leaves; slice thin)
- 2-3 chili peppers (slice thin)
- Fried shallots
- 2 limes/lemons (slice into wedges)
- Fermented shrimp paste
Garnishes / Side Sauce
- Start off by roasting the shallots, yellow onions and ginger whole in a small toaster oven at 450° for 40 minutes. Peel once cooled. Leave the onions and shallots whole. Slice the ginger into coins. Set aside.
- Clean the pork bones: Add pork bones to a large stock pot. Add salt (1 teaspoon) and water to cover. Heat on medium-high until water comes to a boil then immediately turn off heat. Drain content of pot into a colander placed in the sink. Wash the bones thoroughly under cold running water and drain dry. Set aside. Clean the stock pot for use later.
- Clean the chicken breasts: Use the coarse action of salt (remaining 1 teaspoon) to abrasively scrub chicken breasts. This will remove any foul poultry smell and the surface impurities. Rinse chicken breasts and drain dry. Set aside.
- To the cleaned stock pot, add pork bones, chicken breasts, shallots, yellow onions, ginger, half of the dried salted shrimp, and 4 liters water. Bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook stock for 40 minutes.
- Test doneness of chicken by piercing the thickest part of the breasts with a chopstick or knife. If chopstick or knife pierces easily and water runs clear (no blood/pink liquid), then chicken is done. Transfer chicken to an ice bath for 5-10 minutes to firm up texture and skin. Once cooled, slice thinly and set aside as topping.
- Add shiitake mushrooms to the stock and continue to simmer on low for another 40 minutes. Occasionally skim off the foam/impurities that float to the top with a ladle or mesh spoon.
- Make the eggs: Crack eggs into a small bowl, season with fish sauce and whisk well. To a large non-stick skillet, grease with a bit of vegetable oil, add a small amount of egg mixture then swirl mixture around evenly in the pan until you get a very thin layer of eggs. Let the eggs cook for 10-15 seconds then flip it over to cook the other side for 6-8 seconds. Transfer egg crepes to a plate and repeat with the remaining egg mixture. Stack all the egg crepes on top of each other and roll them up together. Cut eggs into thin strips. Set aside as topping.
- Put the remaining dried salted shrimp into a food processor and chop until fine. You can also chop by hand if you don't have a food processor. Transfer chopped dried shrimp to a skillet (use the one that was used for the egg ribbons) and toast (no oil needed) until completely dry and aromatic (about 5-8 minutes). Set aside as another topping.
- Cut the Vietnamese ham (Gio Lua/Cha Lua) into thin strips. Set aside as a topping.
- Cook the noodles per packaged instructions. Drain noodles into a colander placed in the sink. Rinse with water and drain dry.
- Back to the stock pot: After 40 minutes, remove the shiitake mushrooms and all the other solids from the stock. Slice the shiitake mushroom thin and set aside as topping. You can also remove the meat from the pork bones (if any) and use it as another meaty topping.
- Season stock with stock powder, rock sugar, fine sea salt, fish sauce and MSG.
- To assemble, add about a handful of cooked rice vermicelli noodles to the bottom of the bowl. Add the various toppings as its own pile around the bowl: Sliced chicken breasts, pork meat (if any), sliced shiitake mushrooms, toasted salted dried shrimp, egg ribbons and Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua/Gio Lua). Ladle over hot broth and garnish with sliced green onions, sliced Vietnamese coriander, 1-2 slices of chili peppers, fried shallots and a wedge of lemon/lime. Serve with a bit of fermented shrimp paste on the side.