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Monday, June 16, 2008

Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)

Bun Bo Hue 28

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 Fettuccine Alfredo to you and said it's "like spaghetti." Except, you know, fettuccine alfredo has different noodles, different sauces, different meats, different flavors entirely. Most of us know that fettuccine alfredo and spaghetti are very, very different dishes. But if you're not familiar with Italian cuisine and someone described fettuccine 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 1

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
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
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tblsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)

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
Bean sprouts
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.

Bun Bo Hue 2

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.

Bun Bo Hue 3

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.

Bun Bo Hue 4

All the impurities will rise to the top like in the picture below. Dump out the whole pot.

Bun Bo Hue 5

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.

Bun Bo Hue 6

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, 1 tsp salt, 1 tblsp fish sauce, and 1 tblsp of fermented shrimp paste.

Bun Bo Hue 7

When the mixture boils, again more impurities will rise to the top. Skim and remove the scum.

Bun Bo Hue 8

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.

Bun Bo Hue 9

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.

Bun Bo Hue 10

My dad likes to gnaw on pig's toes so I added that as well.

Bun Bo Hue 11

And blood cubes. I buy them pre-cooked, in one big block. Cut into 2-inch chunks.

Bun Bo Hue 12

And cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork loaf).

Bun Bo Hue 13

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.

Bun Bo Hue 14

Annatto seeds are what makes bun bo Hue broth red.

Bun Bo Hue 15

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.

Bun Bo Hue 16

You should have a nice bright red color like so.

Bun Bo Hue 17

Add the 2 finely minced stalks of lemongrass and saute for a minute or so to release the fragrance.

Bun Bo Hue 18

Then add 2 tblsp of fermented shrimp paste and 1 tblsp of chili sauce.

Bun Bo Hue 19

Saute until smooth like so. Add the whole mixture to the stock pot.

Bun Bo Hue 20

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.

Bun Bo Hue 21

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.

Bun Bo Hue 22

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.

Bun Bo Hue 23

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.

Bun Bo Hue 24

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.

Bun Bo Hue 26

Boil the noodles and drain. Remember to upend a bowl into the colander to cut down on clumping.

Bun Bo Hue 25

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.

Bun Bo Hue 27

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.

Bun Bo Hue 29


If you'd like a simplified version, you can try my recipe for Crock Pot Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup).

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).


  1. I'm in love with these soups with the star anise as a base...I can even have pho in the middle of summer...it's that good!

  2. LOL! Seesh...too many steps for a hack cook like me. One of my favorite soups by far, and it ain't anything like "Spicy Pho". What the heck?

  3. I love this soup! I had one on the streets of Da Nang (not Hue...) for 10,000 dong that was really good. At home, we break pieces of sesame banh trang into the soup.

  4. This is my favorite Viet Soup! I'm so hungry right now.

  5. Totally kickass post! I love bbh! Pho's good but bbh is where it's at!

  6. FYI all you readers of Wandering Chopsticks, *I* have a much *easier* bun bo Hue recipe.

    Yours, WC, is, of course, much better!

    Maybe when I am feeling energetic, I will make your version...

    What a fantastic post - although your pictures broke my interwebs!

  7. Fabulous post - so many photographs for those unfamiliar with Vietnamese cooking techniques


  8. funny i came across this! i just made it for dinner last night! i've never heard of putting cha lua in it though! and you just reminded me i should make some cha tom!!! when i'm really lazy (doesn't happen often when it comes to cooking!), there's a vietnamese store that carries all these bouillon cubes that you can basically get in any flavor possible! (bun bo hue, pho, bun rieu, bo kho...the list goes on and on!) perfect when i don't have a lot of time but am really craving something!
    p.s. why would anyone compare pho and bun bo hue?!!!!! some people just don't know! it's about as bad as people calling pho, "fo"! makes me cringe!!:)

  9. Wow - fantastic post with all the steps! It reminds me a bit of the Penang Laksa that we get in Malaysia - though the soup for that is fish soup.

  10. I'm usually not one to make a stock of broth since I'm a dessert gal, but I love this soup so much that I'll have to!

  11. Great recipe and well thought out steps w/ pictures! Just my preference, I usually don't add the annato/lemon grass mixture to the entire soup right away but like to add when heating the broth just priot to each serving (as this is typically eatened over the entire weekend and that way, i can have a relatively clear broth that i can freeze). Also, i keep a jar of that as it lasts a long time for when i unfreeze the broth it's ready to go..

  12. Sounds really good. I did have a soup similar to this while in VN - but, there was no blood cubes or pork loaf or feet - but it definitely had the lemongrassy, shrimpy, red broth. I think that it was in Da Nang city by one of the markets.

    Not directly related to the bun bo hue, but the banana blossom made me think of it. When I was in Hoi An last year we ate at a restaurant on the bank of a small river. One of the pre-meal dishes was some kind of banana blossom salad. I don't really remember what was in it besides shredded banana blossom and hair-thin carrot strings. I really don't even remember what the dressing or marinade tasted like that was on it (perhaps some form of nuoc mam) - but, I do remember liking it a lot. If you know of the salad that I'm talking about, I'd love to see you post a recipe for it sometime.

  13. Thank you for that illuminating explanation of the differences between the two noodle soups. Thank you for the demonstration. I've never tried bun bo hue (it's available in some Vietnamese restaurants here), because I've always chosen pho instead.

    Will have to try it soon.

  14. i love to slurp up all the soup in a good bowl of pho. Your description is detailed and useful.

  15. I never knew those were banana blossoms! Great detailed post.

  16. All I can say is - halleluja! Thank for shedding light on any confusion about this dish.

    And thank you for putting all that time and effort into assembling the step-by-step photos and directions.
    I know the ingredient list and recipe may seem daunting, but homemade Bun Bo Hue can't be beat.

    Pho might be my favorite dish but Bun Bo Hue has an equally special place in my heart - my grandpa is *nguoi trung* afterall :)

    You know, I also add annatto oil at the end - It makes the dish glisten with red and amber colors.

    Again, thanks for this post. It's filed under the many WC recipes I'll be making asap.

  17. once again I'm dead jealous at your cooking skills. How do you stop anatto seeds from spitting? Last time I tried to fry it it exploded it my face lol.

  18. i am totally smitten with this soup!! gorgeous!

  19. A landmark post, WC. Terrific detailed steps and fantastic photos. I've never made bò bún Huế simply because I'd be eating it for months! I've never heard any non-Viet talk about bbH so there's never been any confusion with pho.

  20. Thank you I will have to make this despite the HOT weather and my mom hasn't given me the recipe either! ;-)

  21. My mom made another huge vat! I had it for dinner yesterday and breakfast today! It's the breakfast of champions...well, for me it is.

  22. Peter,
    That's my point. There is no star anise in bun bo Hue's base. It's an entirely different soup from pho.

    You are far from a hack cook. But yes, there's an awful lot of steps so that's why it's easier to go out for it. :)

    I haven't heard of breaking banh trang me in bun bo Hue. Don't see why not though.

    I didn't know you were such a big bun bo Hue fan.

    Annie and Nate,
    Thanks. Looks like there's lots of bun bo Hue fans.

    You did all the basic steps, you just omitted a lot of the side herbs. It's still a lot of work.


    Cha lua and cha tom both originated from Hue I think? So I think that's why those meats are also added. I'm quite against using those flavor cubes. Too much MSG and salt. If I were lazy and didn't want to cook, I'd just get it to go. Otherwise, if I'm going to make it, I do it from scratch. Well, even after this post people still don't get that bun bo Hue and pho are different dishes. I hate people calling pho, "fuh." Grrr.

    I had some assam laksa recently too and the lemongrass notes really did remind me of this soup. I think the fish base is similar to the shrimp paste base of bun bo Hue so that's why it tastes similar.

    Cake Wardrobe,
    I hope you like it! I'm the opposite, not such a big dessert person.

    The annatto seed oil and lemongrass mixture is added in the last phase of cooking with the pig's feet. Add lemongrass at the end makes it too raw in taste and I like my broth to be more cohesive.

    All the meats are optional so sometimes you won't get everything you see here. Blood cubes and pig's feet are too extreme for some people. As for the banana blossom salad, just take the basics of my VNese chicken salad and add thinly sliced banana blossoms to it.

    Eating Club,
    I'm more of a pho eater myself so that's what I usually order too. But it's worth trying just for a change and see if you like it.

    This isn't pho, it's bun bo Hue. They're very different soups.

    Front Studio,

    Ah, well, people still seem to be confused. :P Yeah, this post took a long, long time to get together. Thanks for recognizing that!

    Did you keep your oil on medium-low? Lower heat will keep the annatto seeds from spitting.


    Landmark huh? Hehe. Thanks. If I made bun bo Hue for just myself, it'd take forever to finish eating too. That's why it helps to have hungry cousins and friends. :)

    My mom doesn't give precise recipes because she doesn't cook from recipes. She just tells me in general what to add, and I interpret in my own way. But even if I had her exact recipe, it's still not going to end up the same. And my dad is just used to eating her cooking.

    Haha! I love how our eating habits always seem to coincide.

  23. i could only dream of trying to make this on weekends hehehe...

    hmm ok let me just continue to dream and maybe a bowl will appear before me?

    WC...fedex fedex fedex

  24. MCR,
    Ha! Crazy lady! Fedex soup to HK? :P

  25. Ok, I have my spoon and a bottle of wine. I'll be right over.

  26. wow! after that very educational explanation, there really is no excuse to confuse bun bo hue with pho.

    it looks like such a rewarding dish to make, but i'm just not patient enough.

    i'm going to have to keep my eye out for a hue specialist restaurant in sydney to try it at it's best!

  27. Natashya,
    Haha! I wonder what kind of wine you would pair with this?

    It's a bit laborious to make, so that's why most people just go out for it. But yes, I do hope you try it some day!

  28. Thanks for spelling out all the differences between the two.. Awesome educational post :)

  29. Jude,
    Hehe. Thanks. Now that I've "taught" you the differences, don't mix them up. ;)

  30. Are annatto seeds used for anything besides adding color? Do they impart much taste to the dish?

    I noticed just this week that our VNese grocery got some in and wondered if there was any reason to buy them to have around for other recipes, etc.

    Are these the seeds that some women in Viet Nam chew to turn their teeth dark?

    Thanks! You're such a fount of knowledge for us :)

  31. Hi Jonathan,
    The annatto seeds also add a nice aroma to the overall soup. I can't really taste anything, but that's just me.

    If you're asking about the red-stained lips from chewing, that's the juice of the betel nut, combined with betel leaves and slaked lime. Slightly narcotic and addictive.

    Sometimes confused with stained black lacquered teeth, which used to be viewed as a sign of beauty at the beginning of the 20th century. It was also a tooth decay preventative.

  32. I am over the moon that I stumbled upon your blog last night. Have a pot of bun bo hue on the stove as I type this, the soup smells heavenly. My husband has been wanting me to make this soup ever since the best bun bo hue restaurant in sac switched owners. Also, do you have a bun rieu recipe?

  33. Jill,
    I'm glad you like the recipe. Haven't gotten around to making bun rieu yet. Too hot this summer to cook big pots of soup.

  34. Hey - Thanks for the recipe! Any idea how many 6 quarts can feed? You said you were able to feed "many people", but any ideas how many is many, approximately? I'm just trying to see if I have to increase the recipe at all to feed my husband's family. Thanks!

  35. Celine,
    Only you can answer that question. Everyone's appetite is different. How big are your soup bowls, how much liquid do you often pour in, etc.

  36. I LOVE bun bo hue. Never attempted to make this on my own (family usually orders it and brings it home :P) because it sure is a lengthy process. Great post!

  37. yumDish,
    It sure is. That's why I haven't made this since the post. Took forever to make and forever to post about too. :P

  38. i think i would flip my lid too if someone were to say that bun bo was like pho gone wild. what? really? i've never thought that!

    it wasn't until i had moved away from home that i learned to appreciate this dish. if this was what was for dinner growing up, i'd make myself some mì gói. (I KNOW! the horror!) now i make do with ordering it at restaurants. it is my goal to make this sometime...

  39. Lan,
    Haha. I think the confusion is really amusing and upsetting if you're VNese. Non-VNese probably don't really get it. I prefer pho over bun bo Hue myself, but sometimes, nothing but bun bo Hue will do.

  40. hi,
    i had a question about one of the meat ingredients. Are you using beef shank or flank in the soup, you interchange the two from the start to the end of the recipe. THanks in advance

  41. Tina,
    Thank you for pointing that out! It should definitely be shank every time, just like in the photos. I had no idea I had even done that. I've edited the recipe to correct that.

  42. I can't wait to try this Recipe thanks!

  43. Thank you for sharing your recipe...I am actually making the paste and the broth tonight...my roomie who is viet did not like the fermented shrimp paste smell while I was cooking it...I think it is lovely and he is betraying his peeps... ;)...lol...jk...I will let you know how it turns out...maybe I will get a pic or two before I eat it all...

  44. Ms. DiDi,
    Ah, mam ruoc is an acquired taste, but I love it. Smells good to me. He is betraying his peeps! ;)

    So how did it turn out?

  45. Hey WC,

    This is the first time I log into your site. Love the pix and the step by step instruction.
    I am a working mom with two kids, and I found that a quick and easy way to cook Bun Bo or Pho is by using the 20Q slow cooker (that is used to cook turkey). Put everything into a pot for a few hours and voila! dinner is ready when you get home from work. (Not a lot of work when you use a slow cooker)

    Being that I was born in DaNang, I grow up eating bun bo at least 2-3 times a month. It is still my favorite food. I can't believe people actually thought Pho and Bun bo are similar....whatever....It's like comparing chicken noodle soup to beef stew...

    I haven't try your recipe yet, but it looks great!
    When I am lazy and don't have fresh pineapple on hand I would put in a can of pineapple and it would still taste the same to me.

    By the way, you wouldn't have a recipe for goi xoai (mango salad) now would you?


  46. I'm Vietnamese but I'm completely hopeless with Vietnamese cooking so I was super excited to come across your blog.

    I'm based in London and can't seem to find mam ruoc. Can you tell me what's the difference between mam ruoc, mam nem, mam tom and shrimp paste?

    I can only get mam nem, mam tom or shrimp paste (the thai kind) and I'm not sure what the best substitute is for mam ruoc?

    thanks for all your help!


  47. I was preparing to cook the Bun Bo Hue, so I searched and found this recipe. After reading the nine-yard instructions of this elaborate soup with all possible ingredients that the soup could have, I changed my mind. I put the pork meat away and leaving home now to a Vietnamese restaurant to order the soup. Too much work.

    Thanks for the nice recipe !

  48. I finally had the guts to try cooking Bun Bo Hue and used your recipe which it turned out delicious!

    Thanks for the great recipe with really detailed descriptions! I wouldn't been able to do it following my mom-in-law's instructions.

  49. Quinn,
    Funny! I recently posted my recipe for Crock Pot pho and have been asked to do one for bun bo Hue. That'll take a little more work I think since there's way more ingredients to modify. And yes, people still think the two soups are the same. My goi xoai xanh recipe is in my recipe index. Or you can use the searchbar.

    Mam ruoc is shrimp paste. I'm not sure what you mean by mam tom unless you're talking about fresh shrimp that is pickled. Mam nem is anchovy paste. If you look in my recipe index or "peek in my kitchen," I have links to the different kinds of sauces and explain what they are and how they're different.

    Yup, that's why most people go out for bun bo Hue. :P

    Duc & June,
    Thanks for trying out my recipe! I'm glad it turned out for you. Your mother-in-law's instructions are probably like my mother's - a bit of this and a bit of that. :P

  50. My mom refused to show me how to make this because she's always saying you eyeball everything. I tried your recipe and it came out really good :) Thanks!!

  51. Annie,
    How come? My mom cooks like that, but she still tells me the how-to part. Thanks for trying my recipe!

  52. Thanks for this recipe. This was my first attempt making bun bo hue and it turned out well. The hardest part was finding the ingredients but the cashier helped me find the shrimp paste, it was in their refrigerator section. I ended up using pre-minced lemongrass from the freezer section of the Asian store and a small can of pineapple which helped with prepping time. I also used it in a crock pot which felt like it took a good forever of 6 hours on high. I almost didn't let it solidify in the fridge but I'm glad I did because there was a really thick layer of fat the next morning. My fiance didn't particularly like the lemongrass texture so I would recommend straining it out when it's ready to eat if you end up using the pre-minced one. We didn't have any garnishes (except lime) or extra meat because I really just like the broth by itself. I will make this again!

    Thank you so much for having this website written in English. We're going to try a few more recipes and look forward to eating them all :)

  53. Tea,
    Yeah, that's why I don't add minced lemongrass at the end like some people do. I just think it interferes with my enjoyment. Thanks for trying the recipe and giving me feedback!

    The story about your friend Matt is so sad and wonderful. I wonder if he's the same one who emailed me a long time ago saying he saved all my recipes to his hard drive because he was afraid they'd disappear? Unless Google goes out of business, my blog isn't going anywhere. :P

  54. How many ppl does this feed? I want to know how big of a pot I should buy to feed like 15 ppl?

  55. Hey there WC,
    Just had to say ur recipe ROCKS!!!!
    I'm not VN, but have fallen in love 20 yrs ago with my first Pho Dac Biet (extra tripe and tendon, thank you) and Cha Ca (dig the shrimp paste).
    Made Bun Bo Hue again the other day. Everyone around the table agreed it was amazing- a million thanks for the recipe. Way too many recipes do not include real VN ingredients, thus we rarely experience the magical balance of REAL VN FOOD. Sure, Mam Ruoc Hué and Mam Nem is pungent, but without these and other ingredients the food is not, well, magical!

    Once ran out of Mam ruoc hué and replaced with Lee Kum Kee Fine Shrimp paste-worked out OK

    Powdered annatto works well too, and is easy to find in Latino groceries under Achiote

    A suggestion for non-VN for summer:Bò Tái Chanh-nice and fresh for those hot summer nights!

  56. Looks great! Thanks for sharing. Too often I see people buying bun bo hue (and other soup base) paste tubs for convenience instead of putting out the sweat equity that is required for this magnificent dish. True, it is rather labor intensive. But when made from scratch, it offers such bold and complex flavors with much depth that no ready-made soup mix can rival. This post makes me smile.

    A random tip I learned from my mom: after the parboil and thorough rinse, never bring the new stock up to a full boil. You'll have to then stew the bones longer but the result will be a clearer, cleaner broth.

  57. Thank you for posting the recipe for this soup. I made it last night and it was wonderful. I do not eat as much spice as some of my Vietnamese friends but I enjoy a bow of spicy bun bo hue. In the recipe, I added 8 fresh red Thai chillies to the soup base and it kicked it up a notch. Still not spicy enough IMO, maybe 12 chillies next time. It was delicious at any rate.

  58. Melin,
    A really big one? :P It's a 7-quart stock pot. How many people it feeds depends on the size of your bowls. But I'd probably double this recipe for 15 people.

    Great to hear!

    The pastes are pungent but oh so good! :)

    A lot of recipes or restaurants even, take short cuts and use powdered mixes and MSG. Then finish it off with the shrimp paste and fresh lemongrass at the end to disguise the fact that the broth isn't up to par. Nothing beats doing it right.

    The tip is what I adopt for pho. I don't care so much about bun bo Hue since the broth has so many other ingredients that the clarity isn't as much of an issue.

    Whoa! That's a lot of chili peppers! Glad you liked the recipe.

  59. thank you so VERY much for putting step-by-step pictures of this highly nutritious soup. I am Korean and never had Bun Bo Hue before, but now I am definitely going to make it following your recipe book. It looks so, so nutritious. Just from looking at the ingredients, I know that it is high in:

    Iron (blood cubes)
    Protein (meat)
    a HUGE chunk of calcium (bones soaked and cooked for hours, plus melted collagen), probably 100 mg per spoonful
    Vitamin C
    and Iron, Potassium and Manganese (lemongrass).

  60. Bun Bo Hue -The recipe is very clear to follow. I am excited to try out your recipe soon.

  61. i'm taking a chance with the slow cooker on this recipe and it's cooking now... and can't wait to eat it! hope it works. I made your pho bo last month and it was delish. thank you for sharing!

  62. tnt4dabrain,
    I hope you try making it. It's one of my most popular recipes. I think all those various ingredients provide so much flavor.

    I hope you do!

    Glad you liked my pho recipe!

  63. So glad to find this recipe. Thanks for sharing it with us. It is high on my list of things to do as I've been craving GOOD bun bo hue.

    My only question is with the chili paste used in the oil mixture. Do you have a picture of it or a name or is it just fresh chilies broken down in a food pro? If yes, just fresh red Thai chilis? I'm assuming you don't mean the Tuong Ot Toi/Xa since those are ready to eat.

    Also, how comparable is banana blossom to red cabbage? Is it just a variation or solid substitute? I want to make it as close to authentic as possible but I haven't seen them for sale near me.

    Sorry to be a nuisance but the devil is in the details and I notice just about every Anglicized recipe tend to gloss over minor ingredients like soy sauce (which kind? dark, light, mushroom, Chinese, Japanese?)

    Thank you again. After I tackle this, I plan to make Laksa. Another of my top 3 favorite noodle soups.

  64. Hi Philip,
    I used Huy Fong's chili garlic sambal, but you can use fresh chilies or the tuong ot toi/xa too. Any of those would be fine as it flavors a big pot of broth so the nuances aren't as detectable. If you're using fresh chilies, puree them, of course, and adjust according to your spicy tolerance.

    Banana blossoms are slightly astringent in taste and really aren't comparable to red cabbage at all, but if you can't find any, it's an acceptable substitute.

    Asam laksa or curry laksa? My asam laksa recipe is pretty darn good. I haven't gotten around to blogging the curry laksa yet and admit it needs some tweaking before I do so.

  65. I'm not too sure but I remember doing research and finding recipes that follow closer to the Malaysian style as opposed to the more mixed Singaporean versions. It also involved candlenuts and no fish base.

    I will definitely try to find banana blossom. Come to think, I may have actually had it before and IIRC, the texture is pretty unique too.

    I finally got time to click around your blog some more and just want to say thanks again for all the great Vietnamese recipes. I used to live in LA too which has (as far as I've experienced) way better Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai foods than SF and I miss it all. My favorite were the Sichuan/Mala foods that have been getting really popular lately and still some of the best I've had. At least within the US. Another visit down is in the books for the near future, mostly just to stuff myself and bring back some memories.

  66. Hello! This is the first recipe I have tried from your fabulous site and it turned out soooooo good. I followed the steps exactly and it's not that complicated, just need lots of time. My Swiss husband says it's the best he's ever had, and we had enough to make several meals. Thanks so much for your blog. I look forward to trying more. I live in Indonesia so having all these recipes handy makes me less homesick for my mom's cooking.

  67. Philip,
    I definitely agree that the food in LA is so much better than in SF. I've lived in both so I should know. But it's hard to convince SF people since they tend to think their city is best.

    Awesome! So glad you liked it. How fascinating to find a VNese person, married to a Swiss, and living in Indonesia!

  68. I've been looking for this recipe for a while, but I couldn't remember the name! I tried it once a while ago when I was still living in Vancouver. I'm a big fan of lemongrass, so I really wanted to try to make it myself.

  69. Jenn,
    It's a bit of work, but not difficult. And nothing beats homemade.

  70. What if star anise were to be added into the recipe for this Bun Bo Hue? What changes in taste would there be?

    I understand you say star anise is for Pho and not Bun Bo Hue, but the restaurant that I LOVE to eat Bun Bo Hue at, i see star anise in the soup.

    I just wanna know so I'd know if that makes much of a difference in the final taste.

    Also, can i use chili powder instead of Chili paste?

    - Thanks

    1. Also, I'd like to ask, if putting into the fridge over-night to remove excess fat, should everything but the broth be removed from the pot first or leave them in?

  71. Bang,
    It would taste like star anise-scented bun bo Hue. If that's how you like it, then that's fine. I just pointed that out so that people who were trying to make bun bo Hue, but who used pho spices, wouldn't get the flavor profile they were expecting.

    If you use chili powder instead of chili paste, you'll get a chili powder taste, which is quite different. Feel free to experiment, just realize the result you'll get from each substitute will be different.

    Do you mean leave the soup bones or the final broth with the meats you're going to eat in the fridge overnight? I usually leave the "clean" version of the pot overnight. Meaning, it's the soup broth that I've already simmered the soup bones and then fished them out and put the meat back into the soup. So the impurities that float to the top after refrigeration can be skimmed off with a spoon or plastic wrap. See my pho bo recipe for how that looks. So then you would just reheat to eat and there's little prep.

  72. Thanks for your reply.
    I went to the grocery store and they had Mam Ruoc and Mam Ruoc Hue.
    Which should i use? what's the difference.

    - thanks again

  73. Bang,
    It depends on the brand? It might be labeling since I've always thought mam ruoc and mam ruoc Hue were the same thing? I'd have to see the jars to see if there's a difference though.

    If you look at my mam ruoc post, which I link to in the ingredients list, or in the photo above with the chile paste and lemongrass, it should be about that consistency and color.

  74. Had a mediocre bowl of Bun Bo in Hue last month and just had to make my own today and used your recipe. Turned out great - thanks!

  75. I just wanted to say thank you....

  76. Best soup I've ever made and tasted!
    It was so delicious! Thank you so much for sharing!

  77. Ginger and Scotch,
    Thanks for trying my recipe.

    You're welcome.

    Thanks for trying my recipe. Glad you liked it.

  78. I like Bun bo Hue, Thank you for share.

  79. I thought I'd let you know that I've been reading you blogs for about two years now. I'm not Vietnamese, but my husband is and he, without a doubt, loves and needs his Vietnamese cuisine. I've used several of your recipes (without telling him initially) and his response, "Mmm...looks like I got myself a Vietnamese girl that can cook." lol :) I'm intimidated to try this recipe (it's my favorite dish in the entire world), but I'm taking a leap soon...fingers crossed it goes well. And thanks for existing :)

  80. Loan,
    You're welcome.

    Good luck! It's not hard, just a bit laborious. Glad you're trying so many of my recipes.

  81. I made this recipe over the past 2 days (broth yesterday, soup today) using the lemongrass, sawtooth herb, garlic chives, and ginger out of my own garden. The soup turned out absolutely delicious! This was my first time cooking pig's foot, too. Great recipe.

  82. Greenbasket.me,
    Glad you liked it. Yeah, splitting up the broth making into several days makes it easier. Sawtooth herb and ginger in your own garden? Pretty cool!

  83. Great write up! I've used this about 5 times in the past few years and it's been awesome. I did start tweaking it by using uncooked huyet. Makes a big difference when you cook it for about an hour in the broth. Takes on a lot of the flavor profiles.

    Keep up the great posts.


  84. Khanh,
    Five times? And you only speak up now? :) I haven't tried cooking with raw huyet yet. It doesn't fall apart in the broth?

  85. Ditto on the rant! My other pet peeve is food reality shows making pho in 30 minutes or they throw together elements of the pho and calls it Vietnamese pho. I think that's ground for automatic elimination!

  86. Erin,
    I've seen versions where they added the spices to canned beef broth and called it pho! As if that could even compare in taste!


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