Vietnamese Thick Noodle Soup, or Banh Canh, is one of my favorite childhood foods. It's the most simplest and purest of all the Vietnamese noodle soups. As a kid, I ate it regularly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In its simplest form, it's thick noodles in a rich and savory pork broth. There aren't too many components like other Vietnamese noodle soups. However, variations of Banh Canh such as Banh Canh Cua can include proteins like crab, shrimp, fish balls, and fried fish cakes. In restaurants, a side of Vietnamese herbs and greens also accompanies the noodle.
The Banh Canh noodles are thick and chewy, made from tapioca flour or a combination of tapioca flour and rice flour. They resemble Japanese udon noodles and quite often, udon noodles are used as substitute. The broth is made from a pork stock of pigs feet, hocks, kunckles and/or neck bones. The bones are simmered for about two hours and then seasoned with sugar, salt and pork seasoning powder. The below recipe uses pork neck bones for a leaner broth.
I like the broth on the thicker side so I would cook my noodles separately but right before serving, I would simmer the noodles in the broth. The starchy noodles not only absorb the flavorful broth but it also thickens up the soup. Just remember to only simmer enough noodles that you are going to eat right away. Otherwise, any leftover noodles in the broth is going to absorb all the liquid. I learned this the hard way. I also like to color my broth with annatto seeds. I heat the annatto seeds in vegetable oil to render the color and then add the colored oil to the broth. This is purely optional but the red color adds oomph to an otherwise seemingly plain dish.
My husband is not a big fan of this noodle soup, which is why this is my go-to dish when he makes me mad. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Thick Noodle Soup Recipe (Banh Canh)
- 3 lb pork neck bones
- 3 liters water
- 1 large yellow onion or 4 shallots (leave whole)
- 2 tablespoon salt (divided)
- 1 tablespoon pork seasoning powder
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 bags Banh Canh Noodles
- Scallions (thinly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon annatto seeds
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 stick Vietnamese pork sausage/ham (Cha Lua or Gio Lua)
- Bake the onion or shallots in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour or when they are soft and oozing. Allow the onions/shallots to cool then cut into halves and peel. Set aside.
- Clean the pork bones thoroughly: Add the pork bones to a large stock pot and fill with water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil the bones for 5 minutes. Drain the stock pot into a colander and rinse the bones under cold running water. This helps clean the bones and rid them off the foul pork smell.
- Add water (3 liters) to a stock pot and bring to a boil (if you are reusing the same stock pot that was used to blanch the bones, make sure to clean the pot thoroughly before adding water). Add the blanched bones and onions/shallots. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for two hours.
- Add sugar, pork seasoning powder and remaining salt to taste.
- In a small sauce pan, heat vegetable oil on medium high and add the annatto seeds. Let the annatto seeds give off the red color (about 30 seconds to 1 minute). Separate the annatto seeds from the oil. Toss the seeds. Pour the red oil into the stock pot.
- Cook the Banh Canh noodles per packaged instructions. If the noodles are sticking together, add a little bit of vegetable (about 1/2 teaspoon) and toss the noodles gently together.
- To assemble, add a handful of Banh Canh noodles into a bowl. Ladle broth over noodles, including any pork meat from the broth. Add slices of Vietnamese Sausage (Cha Lua).
- Sprinkle with pepper and scallions.