Now I finally get to the recipe that started the whole Cambodia series, and the Cambodian vs. Vietnamese food tangent. I was tickled pink when Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon quoted my mini-rant on her post about bun bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup). Hmm. Is it too much to quote someone else quoting me? :P
Yeah it is, but since this is my recipe post, I'll expand on this topic. Like Oanh, I've also come across several blogs and Chowhound posts with people referring to bun bo Hue as "spicy pho" or "pho gone wild" or some such approximation. This needs to stop. Look, I get that if you're not Vietnamese you may not understand all the nuances of the many noodle soups that Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. But to a Vietnamese, pho and bun bo Hue are such completely different dishes that calling bun bo Hue "like pho" sounds ridiculous.
Let's break it down shall we?
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
Origin: northern Vietnam, Hanoi
Spices: star anise, cloves, cinnamon
Stock: beef bones only
Meats: beef only: thinly sliced eye of round, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe
Primary flavoring agents: fish sauce, rock sugar or daikon
Noodles: banh pho (Vietnamese flat rice noodles)
Herbs: Thai basil, sawtooth herb
Other vegetation: bean sprouts, chilies, onions, limes
Dipping sauces: hoisin and chili sauce
Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)
Origin: central Vietnam, Hue
Spices: lemongrass and lots of it
Stock: beef and/or pork bones
Meats: beef shank, pig's feet, cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork loaf), huyet (Vietnamese pig's blood cubes), cha tom (Vietnamese shrimp paste)
Primary flavoring agents: mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) and pineapple or sugar
Noodles: bun (Vietnamese round rice noodles)
Herbs: mint, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese purple perilla)
Other vegetation: bean sprouts, chilies, onions, limes, and also banana blossoms or red cabbage,
Dipping sauces: mam ruoc
So except for the fact that they both are beef noodle soups and bean sprouts, chilies, onions, and limes (which almost all Vietnamese noodle soups) serve on the side, nothing else is the same. Different origins, different spices, different stock, different meats, different flavoring agents, different noodles, different herbs, different other vegetation, different dipping sauces? So tell me again how bun bo Hue is "like pho"? Or "spicy pho"? Or "pho gone wild"?
Let me simplify by using Italian food as an analogy. If I were to describe fettucine alfredo to you and said it's "like spaghetti." Except, you know, fettucine alfredo has different noodles, different sauces, different meats, different flavors entirely. Most of us know that fettucine alfredo and spaghetti are very, very different dishes. But if you're not familiar with Italian cuisine and someone described fettucine alfredo as "like spaghetti," wouldn't that come with a set of expectations?
And so it is, that if you describe bun bo Hue as "like pho" a person unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine will be expecting a similarly delicate broth. Bun bo Hue is not delicate. The broth can be mildly spicy to sweat-running-down-your-face spicy. The lemongrass notes are very distinctive from pho's star anise, cinnamon, and clove scent. And the very earthy shrimp paste underlies all those flavors. Like Italian pasta, Vietnamese dishes use different flat, round, and wide noodles for a reason. Also, while the Thai basil and sawtooth herbs used in pho are to enhance the delicate spices, the mint, Vietnamese coriander, purple perilla, and banana blossoms are to tone down and balance the earthiness of the fermented shrimp paste.
So please, now that I've hammered it into you, you can call it spicy beef noodle soup, but don't ever refer to bun bo Hue as anything remotely "like pho." You know better now.
This was actually my first time making bun bo Hue. I knew in general what to do, but it's a rather laborious soup to make. It's not difficult, there's just a lot of ingredients. But you know, after the mini-rant, I felt the need to set the record straight. And well, posting a recipe is the best way to illustrate that. I made a big pot and fed many people over the course of several days. I guess you could drastically reduce this recipe for only a few people, but it takes so much work that you might as well invite company over. My childhood friend ate several bowls and said it was the best bun bo Hue she's had in years. My daddy said I should've asked my mom for her recipe. :P So you know, your mileage may vary, this is simply how I like mine.
Like all my recipes, I've written it in the order I would perform each step. I also prefer to make my Vietnamese stock soups over the course of two days, refrigerating the initial stock pot overnight so the fats can harden at the top for easy removal. Since bun bo Hue is not as delicate of a broth as pho, you don't have to cook the bones for as long, about 2 to 3 hours is sufficient. I recommend using a big cast iron enameled stock pot or a similarly thick-walled pot as the extra heat retention will extract more flavor from the bones and tenderize the meat faster.
And obviously, you're going to want to hit a good Asian grocery store for most of these ingredients.
Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle)
For 6 quart pot, about 6 to 8 servings, you'll need:
For the stock:
3 to 5 lbs of pork and/or beef bones (I used 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of each. More bones, More flavor.)
8 stalks of lemongrass, smashed and bruised
2 tblsp mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste)
1 large knob ginger, smashed
1/4 pineapple, toss in ends when you trim the eyes and the center fibrous part too
1 large onion
A few cloves of garlic
Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), to taste
For the annatto seed oil and lemongrass mixture:
1 tblsp annatto seeds
2 tblsp oil
2 tblsp mam ruoc
2 stalks lemongrass, finely minced
1 or 2 tblsp chili paste
For additional meats, use any or all of the following:
2 lbs pig's feet
2 lbs beef shank, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
Cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork loaf)
Cha tom (Vietnamese shrimp paste) Use the shrimp paste recipe in my recipe for Tom Tau Hu Ky (Vietnamese shrimp paste in bean curd skin).
Huyet (Vietnamese steamed pig's blood.) Even if you don't eat them, blood cubes add a lot of flavor to the broth. Look for them in the fresh meats aisle. They're sometimes sold in containers.
For the noodles:
bun (Vietnamese round rice noodles). I prefer Three Ladies brand Jiangxi bun giang tay. They come bundled into individual servings. One bag has four bundles and costs 49 cents.
For the garnish platter, any or all of the following in whatever quantity you wish:
Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander)
Tia to (Vietnamese purple perilla)
Onions, thinly sliced
Banana blossom, thinly sliced or substitute with red cabbage
Serve with saucers of tuong ot xa (Vietnamese lemongrass chili sauce) and mam ruoc if people want to add more to their bowls.
Phew! I told you there was a long list of ingredients for bun bo Hue.
First off, you'll need lots and lots of lemongrass. About 8 stalks should be sufficient. Half a dozen will go into the stock pot, save the other two to be finely minced and flavor the soup at the end.
Smash the lemongrass to release the fragrance. I used a pestle but a meat tenderizer would work too. I used 9 stalks because some of them are rather small. Don't go overboard because too much lemongrass will make your stock bitter.
I used pork soup bones, with marrow and some skin attached, and beef neck bones. Wash and rinse the bones and place them into a stock pot. Fill the pot with water until covered. Boil the meat with bones for 10 minutes.
All the impurities will rise to the top like in the picture below. Dump out the whole pot.
Wash the meat so all the impurities are gone. Wash out the stock pot too unless you have another one to use. Then place the bones back in the stock pot, fill with water and set it on the stove to boil again.
If you'll notice, I had a different and bigger stock pot as well. Here's my trick, I placed two pots of water to boil. I used a smaller stock pot to boil the meat and dump out the impurities. I left the bigger pot where I'll be adding the cleaned meat to boil also. That way, I don't have to wait for a second big pot of water to boil. To this second clean pot, add the cleaned meat bones, one onion, the bruised lemongrass stalks, a few cloves of garlic, a knob of ginger, 1/4 of a pineapple, and 2 tblsp of fermented shrimp paste.
When the mixture boils, again more impurities will rise to the top. Skim and remove the scum.
Then turn your heat down to medium-low and let simmer for at least 3 hours. After that, I let the pot cool down and refrigerate overnight so I can remove excess fat. If you don't want to do that, then after 3 hours, remove everything from the pot except for the broth. The meat should be falling off the bone tender at this point. Shred the meat and add that back into the pot if you wish.
Prepare your other meats. You may use any or all of the following meats. On the left is thit bap (Vietnamese beef shank) and sliced pig's feet. Slice the shank meat about 1/4-inch thick. You don't want it too thin. The pig's feet came pre-sliced.
My dad likes to gnaw on pig's toes so I added that as well.
And blood cubes. I buy them pre-cooked, in one big block. Cut into 2-inch chunks.
And cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork loaf).
I didn't make any cha tom (Vietnamese shrimp paste) but you can add that as well.
Set aside the blood cubes, steamed pork loaf, and shrimp paste for adding near the end. Add the beef shank and pig's feet to the stock pot. When the pot boils, again skim the scum and turn the heat down to medium-low to simmer. Check the meat after half an hour to see if it's chopstick-tender, meaning you should be able to poke it with a chopstick. You don't want the pig's feet to be too soft as gnawing on the slightly chewy skin is part of the appeal.
Finely slice two stalks of lemongrass like so. Then finely mince them in the food processor and set aside.
Annatto seeds are what makes bun bo Hue broth red.
In a pan on medium heat, add 2 tblsp of oil and 1 tblsp annatto seeds. When the oil turns red and all color seems to have seeped from the seeds, remove the seeds.
You should have a nice bright red color like so.
Add the 2 finely minced stalks of lemongrass and saute for a minute or so to release the fragrance.
Then add 2 tblsp of fermented shrimp paste and 1 tblsp of chili sauce.
Saute until smooth like so. Add the whole mixture to the stock pot.
Now the bun bo Hue is looking nicely red. Don't worry, that's just the surface, underneath is still a nice beefy-porky broth.
Time to prepare the garnish platter. Select a good-sized banana blossom. Even if you don't eat it all, select the biggest one you can find. The bigger the blossom, the less bitter it tastes. My second-youngest aunt says my mom taught her that. You can see what banana blossoms look like on the tree in my Mekong Delta post.
Look at the baby bananas buds. Banana blossoms have lots of mucous. The blossom is already turning black. So make sure you have a bowl of heavily salted water ready.
Thinly slice the banana blossoms and let them soak in that bowl of heavily salted water to prevent them from browning and to remove some of the astringency. Drain before serving.
Prepare your garnish platters of bean sprouts, mint, Vietnamese coriander, lime wedges (I had lemons.), red cabbage if you don't have banana blossoms, cilantro, and onions.
Boil the noodles and drain. Remember to upend a bowl into the colander to cut down on clumping.
Check on the pig's feet and see if your meat is done. If so, then add the blood cubes and turn the heat to high so you get a roiling boil. You can use this time to add noodles to the bowls. When the pot starts boiling again, spoon the broth and whatever meats you'd like into the bowl of noodles.
Add the steamed pork loaf or shrimp paste if you wish. Let each person garnish their own bowls with the various herbs and greens. Serve with saucers of tuong ot xa (Vietnamese lemongrass chili sauce) and mam ruoc if people want to add more to their bowls.
Who else made bun bo Hue?
Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon gave me the impetus to finally make it.
HoangTam/TT of Playing with My Food gave me the idea for adding pineapple to my stock.
I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging, a world-wide food blogging event created by Kalyn's Kitchen celebrating herbs, vegetables, or flowers.
If you'd like to participate, see who's hosting next week. WHB is hosted this week by Joanna of Joanna's Food.
1 year ago today, a really great venue but why I don't like meeting up with groups of strangers at The Edison - Los Angeles (Downtown).