Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue)
When we think of Vietnamese food, people usually think of Pho, a very popular Vietnamese Noodle Soup dish made from either beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga). But have you heard of its fiery cousin, Bun Bo Hue? Bun Bo Hue isn't quite as popular as Pho but I think it's slowly getting into the spotlight as one of the tastiest Vietnamese noodle soup dishes. Bun means noodles, Bo means beef, and Hue is a city in Central Vietnam, also the former capital of Vietnam, from which it originated. Despite it's name, Bun Bo Hue is also made from pork bones. This can cause a lot of confusion on a menu, especially if you don't eat pork.
The broth for Bun Bo Hue is prepared by slowly simmering various types of beef and pork bones (ox tail, beef shank, pork neck bones, pork feet, and pork knuckles/ham hocks) and loads of lemon grass. The fiery spices, made up from frying together garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes, paprika, fermented shrimp paste, tender parts of lemongrass and ground annatto seeds for the iconic red color, are added later in the cooking process.
For the stock, I also added a ripe pineapple. This is something I learned from watching Anthony Bourdains’ No Reservation (RIP Mr. Bourdain) when he interviewed The Lunch Lady in Vietnam. She added a very ripe pineapple to her Bun Bo Hue stock. The addition of pineapple not only tenderizes the meat but it also gives the broth a very delightful fruity and citrusy flavor. This tip really took my broth to a whole new level!
To assemble this bowl of heavenly goodness, thick round rice noodles are added to a bowl and then topped with slices of brisket, pieces of ham hocks, and cubes of congealed pig's blood. The savory broth is ladled on top of the rice noodles. The bowl is finished with a garnish of green onions, cilantro, and white onions and served alongside a small plate of lime wedges, shredded cabbage, banana blossoms, bean sprouts, mint leaves and other Vietnamese herbs.
Tip to remember. If you are ever in the city of Hue in Central Vietnam, this noodle soup dish is called Bun Bo, not Bun Bo Hue. If you are outside of Hue and its surrounding cities, then the dish is referred to as Bun Ho Hue.
Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue)
- 5 lbs beef and/or pork bones (neck bones, hocks, knuckles, spare ribs or oxtail)
- 2 lbs boneless beef shank
- 2 lbs boneless pork shank
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 stick Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua/Gio Lua; slice thin)
- 4 liters water
- 3 stalks lemongrass (160 grams; discard rough outer leaves, trim of woody green leafy ends and stem; cut in half; lightly smash with mallet; use one rough outer leaf to tie lemongrass into a bundle)
- 2 white/yellow onions (150 grams total; peel)
- 1 small chunk ginger (50 grams, lightly smash with mallet)
- A quarter of very ripe pineapple (200 grams)
- 1-1/2 lbs congealed uncooked pork blood
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1 shallot (peel and lightly smash with mallet)
- 1 golf-ball size ginger (50 grams, lightly smash with mallet)
- 1 tablespoon chicken stock powder
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 1/3 cup annatto oil (can substitute with vegetable oil)
- 10 shallots (peel; finely chop)
- 2 lemongrass (discard rough green leaves and trim off stem; thinly slice then chop finely)
- 1 bulb garlic (finely chop)
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or 2 tablespoons shrimp paste (mam ruoc)
- 2 14-oz package dried extra large rice vermicelli (usually labeled Bun Bo Hue noodles)
- 1 small white/yellow onion (peel and thinly slice)
- 3 green onions (thinly slice)
- Small bunch cilantro (roughly chop)
- 1/2 lb bean sprouts
- 1 small banana blossom (remove rough outer leaves, slice thin and immediately place in water with juice of 1 lime/lemon to prevent darkening)
- 1 head lettuce (slice thin)
- 1 lime/lemon (cut into wedges)
Sate/Chili Oil (Best to use a food processor to chop below ingredients)
Optional Side Vegetables
- Clean the bones and meat: To a large stock pot, add bones and boneless shanks (do not include the Vietnamese ham!) and 2 teaspoons salt. Cover with water and heat on high. When pot reaches a rolling boil and impurities float to the top, turn off heat. Place a colander in the sink and drain the contents of the pot into the colander. Thoroughly rinse bones/meat under cold running water and drain dry. If using boneless pork shank, wrap up meat into a tight bundle with twine. This will make it easier to slice when it's finished cooking. Wash the pot thoroughly and return it to the stove. Transfer parboiled bones/meat to pot and fill with water (4 liters). Add lemongrass bundle, white/yellow onions, ginger, and pineapple. Heat on medium-high/low simmer for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Occasionally skim surface of the stock to keep it clear.
- Remove pork blood from its container by cutting the seal between the pork blood and container with a long knife. Gently tilt container sideway to slide out pork blood into a large bowl then cut into cubes. Fill a small pot with 2-3 inches of water. Add salt, shallot and ginger. Heat pot to a low simmer. Add pork blood and cook for one hour. The low heat will prevent a honeycomb texture. After one hour, drain and rinse pork blood with cold running water. Store cooked pork blood in water and set aside.
- Back to the stock pot: After one and a half hour of cooking, check the boneless shank for doneness by piercing it with a chopstick. It's done when chopstick pierces easily and water runs clear. Remove and discard all bones, but if you are using knuckles and hocks, do not discard. They are commonly used as a meaty topping. Transfer all knuckles, hocks to an iced bath to cool. Leave the other aromatics in the stock pot for now. When knuckles, hocks and boneless shanks are cooled completely, remove them from the iced bath. For boneless shanks, cut them into thin circular slices and set aside. For any large hocks and knuckles that are too big, cut them into bite-size pieces and set aside. Continue to cook the stock with the aromatics for another 30-45 minutes on a low simmer.
- After 30-45 minutes, remove all solids from the stock pot. Season stock with chicken stock powder, fish sauce, sea salt, sugar and MSG (optional).
- Prepare the sate/chili oil. In a medium-size saucepan, heat up annatto oil. Add shallots and fry until water dries up and shallot become fragrant. Add half of the fried shallot to the stock pot. Back to the saucepan, add lemongrass. Pan fry until fragrant. Lastly, add garlic and pan fry until fragrant. Add red pepper flakes, chili powder and fish sauce/shrimp paste. Mix until thoroughly combined and heat on medium-low for 2-3 minutes. Add half of this sate/chili oil to the stock pot. Reserve half to serve on the side.
- In a medium-size stock pot, cook the noodles for 20-25 minutes until soft (disregard package instructions of cooking for only 3-5 minutes. That's not long enough!). Place a colander in the sink and drain noodles into the colander. Rinse with cold water to prevent sticking.
- To assemble, place a handful of noodles into bowl. Add desired amount of sliced boneless shanks, pork knuckles/hocks, sliced Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua/Gio Lua) and 2-3 cubes of pork blood cubes. Ladle in hot broth. Garnish with sliced green onions, yellow/white onion and cilantro. Serve with a platter of fresh vegetables (bean sprouts, banana blossom, lettuce, etc.), lime/lemon wedges, shrimp paste and sate sauce.