Since the settlement of the Vietnamese community across Australia following the war, Pho has been extremely popular all over the country. However, Bún bò Huế is a lesser-known cousin to the infamous pho of Vietnam, is regarded by most Vietnamese as the best noodle soup due to it complex and robust flavours.
The dish, which literally means Hue Beef Noodle Soup, is a spicy broth which contains rice vermicelli that is topped with beef and fresh herbs such as mint, bean spouts and sliced chillies. The Bún bò Huế is often praised for its balance of bold spicy, salty, and umami flavours.
Origins of bún bò huế
Huế is a city in central Vietnam associated with the cooking style of the former royal court. This city is responsible for many famous Vietnamese dishes such as the bánh nậm, bánh bột lọc, cơm hến, and of course, the bún bò huế.
Traditionally, bún bò huế is served with coagulated cubes of pigs blood. Its highly divisive- you either love it or hate it! In his highly popular food/travel series, Parts Unknown, the late Anthony Bourdain gushes on about it: “I would definitely bring a date for bún bò huế.. Because if she doesn’t like this, there’s no hope of a relationship. If she said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, there’s blood and stuff in there,’ that would be a relationship-ender to me. I’m not kidding.”
What is the difference between bún bò huế and phở?
So many things! Let’s start with the noodles: phở is actually named after the flat rice noodles used in the soup, where else bún bò huế uses round rice vermicelli noodles.
The broth in phở is typically clear and light. Usually, only a single type of meat is used for its broth (all beef or chicken). It is also served with cuts of meat from the same animal.
The soup base for the bún bò huế is more umami rich – typically, both beef and pork are used! Then a mixture of shrimp and chilli paste (which is made up of a heap load of fresh herbs pounded together on a pestle and mortar) is added to complete the layers of flavours.
Simplified bún bò huế
Making bún bò huế the traditional way is a massive labour of love. It takes many hours of preparation and cooking. A lot of ingredients and time must go into it before it can develop into its signature full bodied flavours. Thankfully, the good news is that is it so easy to shop for authentic and fresh Vietnamese groceries online in Australia now!
If you aren’t keen on investing a few hours to make the soup base yourself, you can still whip up a really good bowl of bún bò huế in minutes! Asian Pantry stocks a range of authentic instant soup base mix and noodles.
For those keen on taking on the challenge of making bún bò huế, while the ingredients list for this recipe may look intimidating (but trust us on this)- the items can all be found in a typical Asian grocery store. Let’s get started!
- 700g beef bones
- 700g pork hocks, cut into smaller pieces
- 450g beef shank/ beef brisket)
- 12 cups water
- 1 onion
- 4 stalks lemongrass
- 1-2 whole star anise (optional)
- 1 lump rock sugar (2 tbsp brown sugar)
- 4 slices ginger
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 5 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 ½ tablespoons shrimp paste
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- salt to taste
- 7 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp annatto seeds
- 2 tbsp chili flakes
- 1 tbsp lemongrass, finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 shallots, finely minced
Toppings and Garnishes
- 1 packet thick round rice vermicelli noodles
- 1 pack Vietnamese pork sausage
- Cooked beef shank from the broth, sliced
- Cooked pork hocks from the broth, sliced
- Thai Basil (or mint)
- Green Onions, finely chopped
- Bean Sprouts
- Lime Wedges
- Birdseye Chilli
- Thinly Sliced Onions
- Deep Fried Onions or Shallots
- Thinly sliced Banana Blossoms
- Thinly Sliced Red Cabbage
Part 1- Broth
- In a large pot, add cold water into it and add all the meats
- Set the stove to medium, to medium high heat and boil for 15-20 minutes
- Discard the water and clean out the pot
- Using your fingers, gently clean the meat off with water and remove any scum residue
- Add the meat back into the clean pot
- With a blunt object, smash the lemongrass stalks to release the oils then add to the pot
- Add onion, ginger slices, sugar, lime leaves, star anise into the pot
- Add in 12 cups of water and set the heat to medium low
- Stir the shrimp paste with ¼ cup of water and add it into the pot
- Season with fish sauce
- Set a timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Remove the beef shank and set aside
- If your broth reduced a lot, add 2-3 cups of water back to the broth before continuing to boil the broth for another 1 hour and 30 minutes
- When the broth is done, discard the lime leaves, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, star anise and onion
- Remove the pork hock and beef bones and set it aside
Part 2- Making the chilli paste
- In a sauce pan, set the stove to medium heat and add in the annatto seeds and stir it for 3-5 minutes until the oil turns a bright red color
- Discard the annatto seeds
- Add in the chili flakes, lemongrass, garlic and shallots and toast it in the oil for 10 minutes
- Turn off the heat and let the oil cool
- Once the oil has cooled, add it to the broth
Part 3- Assembling everything!
- Cook the noodles according to the package
- Dunk the noodles in cold water once it is done cooking to stop the cooking process
- Thinly slice the beef shank, Vietnamese sausage and chop the pork shank before assembling it all in a bowl
- Add in the noodles and the broth
- Add in garnishes and toppings. Enjoy hot!
If you have attempted this recipe, please share your finished results with us at Asian Pantry. We would love to hear about your experience!