Bun Bo Hue: The Noodle Soup You Never Knew You Loved

Bun Bo Hue: The Noodle Soup You Never Knew You Loved

Bún Bò Huế is a spicy Vietnamese noodle soup that is absolutely addictive and one of the best noodle soups in the world. Unlike the ubiquitous, well-loved and well-known pho, bun bo hue is strangely not as popular. But those in the know, know: Bun bo hue is where it’s at.

Any good cook will tell you that homemade soups are a labour of love. They take time and a little bit of effort, but like any thing that is worth waiting for, they are absolutely heartwarming. Soups, especially noodle soups, are my go to bowl of comfort. I love the flavors and combination of textures (solid and liquid, squishy and firm), the slurping, the messiness, the fun, the satisfaction. And if you had to ask me what my all time favorite noodle soup was, I would probably say: bun bo hue.

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

When we started going out, Mike told me that bun bo hue was one of his favorite soups growing up. He took us out for a couple of bowls of BBH (as Mike and I lovingly call it) and I was addicted. I’ve been wanting to make BBH ever since.

BBH isn’t quite as popular as pho and I’m not quite sure why. It might be because it’s from Central Vietnam or it might just be because it hasn’t yet made its way into the spotlight. But, if you look for it, you can find BBH specialists. There’s even a place down in San Diego that has a BYOP (bring your own pot) so you can bring home enough BBH for your whole family and then some.

Note: this recipe was first posted in 2014 and has been updated since to our most recent version, if you’re looking for the old version, leave us a note in the comments.

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

What is bun bo hue?

If you’ve never had bun bo hue, think of all the things you love about pho and then increase them by 10. Bun bo hue is pho’s hotter, younger, spicier cousin. They share the same general bones: piping hot flavorful stock, slippery noodles, slices of tender beef, and fresh herbs to punch it up. But, while pho is made with just beef, BBH is made with beef and pork, as well as herbaceous lemongrass and a crazy addictive saté that turns the whole soup a gorgeous golden red.

Bun bo hue Soup

The soup is a fiery orange-red thanks to a spicy red hot chili oil made from two kinds of chilis, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, and fish sauce. The rice noodles, thicker and a different shape than the flat ones in pho, are cylindrical and round, slippery and firm. The brisket is tender and the garnishes add the freshness you expect when eating a bowl of Vietnamese food. It’s spicy, savory, sour and sweet all at once – both balanced and in your face.

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

Is bun bo hue #worthit?

The first time I made this was for Mike’s birthday one year and even though it was a lot of work for my inexperienced self back then, the warm cozy comfort of that first sip blew me away. It was totally worth it, and we’ve been making it ever since.

Noodle soup is a gift to yourself and to the ones you love. After all, love is like soup: warm and cozy, nourishing and filling. Love is the crook of your best friend’s arm as you fall asleep at dawn, bursting into laughter together over nothing at all, long lingering walks talking about everything and nothing. Love is noodle soup, the big things, the little things, and everything in between.

Are you convinced? Make this because you love yourself or make it for someone you love. Let’s do this!

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

First things first, where is bun bo hue from?

Bun bo hue is a noodle soup from the city of Hue, Vietnam. The name literally means beef noodle soup from Hue. It’s beloved in Vietnam and since its conception has gone from a soup made with solely beef to a beef-based soup with other good things like pork hock and ham added in.

Bun bo hue ingredients

Bun bo hue is made up of three main components: the soup, the satế, and the stuff.

The soup

The stock or soup of bun bo hue is really easy to make, you just need time (or an Instant Pot).

  • Oxtail – Oxtails will give you the perfect combination of meat for beefiness, collagen from the bones for body, and fat for flavor.
  • Brisket – Slow cooking the brisket in the soup will give the soup extra beef flavor and ensure your brisket is fall apart tender.
  • Lemongrass – Lemongrass is one of the main flavors of BBH. Wash, trim, and slightly bruise the stalks by using your hands to break them, kind of like how you would snap a pencil in half. This will help release their aromatic oils into the soup.
  • Shallots – Shallots add a caramel sweetness without adding sugar.

oxtail bun bo hue soup | www.iamafoodblog.com

The satế

The satế, or the chili oil, is the highlight of BBH. It’s garlicky, spicy, and full of lemongrass flavor. If you like Chinese chili crisp, you’ll LOVE satế. It tastes amazing in soup, obviously, but it also tastes great on everything else: meats, eggs, vegetables, toast, you name it, this satế will make it better.

  • Shallot – Shallots are so much better than onions, in my opinion. They’re delicate and sweet with just a hint of sharpness.
  • Lemongrass – Lemongrass makes up the bulk of the satế and adds a fresh herbaceous. Make sure you trim and remove the outer stalks and mince before placing in your food processor. Lemongrass is tough and has to potential to burn out the motor.
  • Garlic – Lots of garlic for that flavor we all know and love.
  • Fresh Thai chilis – This satế uses a mix of fresh chilis and dried so you get the best of both world. If you like spice, you can add extra Thai chilis.
  • Chili flakes – The dried chili flakes add a hint of smokiness and also the ruby-red color. We like to use dried Sichuan chili flakes.
  • Sugar – A bit of sugar balances out and highlights the spice.
  • Fish sauce – A huge hit of umami added the at the end for saltiness and flavor.
  • Shrimp paste – mắm ruốc huế, a bright pink shrimp paste that’s a specialty of Hue adds a HUGE hit of umami and depth of flavor. If you can find it, it will take your BBH to another level. Mike’s parents have fond memories of when the shrimp boats used to come in once a year. They would ferment their own shrimp paste; they still dream about the flavor.

hue shrimp paste | www.iamafoodblog.com

The stuff

aka the fillings aka the toppings aka the good stuff

  • Vermicelli – The rice noodles in BBH are bun, a thick round vermicelli that’s hearty and hefty. The noodles resemble spaghetti but are made of rice flour, like pho noodles. You can find these at your local Asian grocery store.
  • Brisket – After slow cooking the broth, the brisket is cut into tender, thick slices.
  • Beef balls – Bò viên are the Vietnamese beef meatballs that you’ve probably had in pho. They’re firm and chewy and full of beef flavor. You can find them in the refrigerated section of a well stocked Asian grocery store. We like to cut them in half.
  • Vietnamese meatloaf/ham – There are lots of different varieties of Vietnamese meatloaves out there – they’re kind of like mortadella – but the one we like is chả chiên, the deep fried one. It’s porky and smooth, flavored with black pepper and fish sauce.
  • Banana blossoms – Banana blossoms add crunch and a tangy complexity to bun bo hue. This is one of those specialty toppings that is probably going to be hard to find. It’s absolutely authentic and most good Bun Bo Hue restaurants have banana blossoms. They’re not the easiest to prepare, but if you have a decent Vietnamese grocery store around, you can find them there, pre-prepped, in a vacuum sealed bag in the produce department. If you can’t find them, what a lot of restaurants do is serve up thinly sliced cabbage instead.
  • Herbs – Is it even Vietnamese food if there aren’t any herbs?! We always include what’s fresh at the store, in this particular case, we went with mint, sawtooth coriander (ngò gai), cilantro, Thai basil, thinly sliced red onions, and lime wedges.

toppings for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

This is not even getting into pork hock, blood cubes, and other fixins that are traditional but probably not accessible to the home cook.

How to make bun bo hue

We like to divide the cooking/prep over two days for a more chill vibes pleasant cooking experience. Once you’ve made the stuff the day before, the next day you can go from hungry to a steaming hot bowl of noodles in no time flat. You’ll have basically created your own little BBH restaurant!

Day 1

  1. Make the soup. Blanch the oxtails, then place in a pot with lemongrass and shallots. Let simmer for 3.5 hours then add the brisket and let simmer for another 2.
  2. Once the soup is done, use a slotted spoon to scoop out the aromatics. Remove the oxtails and brisket and store in an airtight container.
  3. Regarding the oxtail: you can have this as a chef’s treat or you can shred the meat off the bone and have it with your BBH the next day.
  4. Store the soup in a container and pop everything in the fridge.
  5. Make the satế. Use a food processor to blend up the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, and chilis, then heat up the oil and gently cook. Mix in chili flakes, sugar, fish sauce, and fish paste. Let cool then store in an air tight container in the fridge.

sate for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

Day 2

Once you have the stock and the satế ready, you’re basically good to assemble!

  1. Prep the herbs: wash and dry the herbs and slice the onion and lime.
  2. Remove the soup from the fridge. Take the brisket out and slice neatly. Slicing the brisket after it chills in the fridge gives you a cleaner cut. Slice the meatloaf/ham and cut the beef balls in half.
  3. Prep your bowls. You’ll need bowls that can generously fit 3 cups of liquid. Fill them up with extra hot tap water and set aside so the bowls can warm up, then drain just before the noodles are done cooking.
  4. Heat up the soup in a pot. When it’s hot, add the brisket, beef balls, and ham and leave it at a bare simmer over low heat. In another pot, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the vermicelli. When it’s done, rinse, drain well, and divide evenly into the bowls.
  5. Top the noodles with the meats, a scoop of the satế (start with 1 tablespoon, then add extra to taste), then ladle on the hot broth. Garnish with ALL the herbs and enjoy immediately.

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

What if I want to make everything in one day?

You absolutely can! Just skip out on the storing the soup in the fridge step and plan your day accordingly: the soup takes 5.5 hours to make.

Stovetop vs Crockpot vs Instant Pot

  • Can you make this with a crockpot? Yes! Blanch the oxtail bones before placing everything in the crockpot (including the brisket) on low for 6 hours.
  • What about the instant pot? Also yes! Again, blanch the oxtail bones, then just put everything in the Instant Pot (including the brisket) on high pressure for 40 minutes, then quick release.

I hope you give this a try and end up loving it. It’s one of our favorite noodle soups. We love BBH so much that we’ll take special side trips to try out well known BBH restaurants. Once our friend even brought us take away BBH from another city! As much as we love BBH out, we love it in more. We can slurp as loud as we like, add ALL the extra satế, and do the toppings just the way we want. Happy noodle souping!

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

xoxo steph (and Mike, since this is his very authentic recipe!)

bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com


Bun Bo Hue

Bun bo hue is a spicy Vietnamese noodle soup that is absolutely addictive and one of the best noodle soups in the world.
Serves 4

4.91 from 20 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 5 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 6 hrs

Ingredients

Bun Bo Hue Soup

  • 1 lb brisket
  • 1 lb oxtail
  • 3 stalks lemongrass bruised
  • 2 shallots halved

Satế

  • 3 stalks lemongrass minced
  • 1 shallot roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 Thai chilies
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1/4 cup Chinese chili flakes or sub 2-4 Thai chilies
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp shrimp paste mắm ruốc, optional

Assembly

  • 8 beef meatballs halved, bò viên
  • 8 slices Vietnamese ham sliced, chả chiên
  • 14 oz thick vermicelli look for the words Bun Bo Hue
  • 1/4 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1 cup banana blossoms cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
  • 4 stems sawtooth coriander ngò gai
  • 4 sprigs cilantro
  • 4 sprigs Thai basil
  • 4 wedges lime

Instructions

  • Bring a small pot of water to the boil and blanch the oxtails for 5 minutes. Bring a second, larger pot with 8 cups of water to a boil.
    blanching oxtails | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Rinse and transfer the oxtails to the second pot along with the lemongrass and shallots. Simmer on low for 3.5 hours. Add the brisket and continue to simmer for another 2 hours for 5.5 hours total. Use a slotted spoon to remove the lemongrass and shallots. Take the oxtail and brisket out and store in a container. Transfer the soup to another container and put everything in the fridge.
    oxtail bun bo hue soup | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • While the soup is simmering, mince the lemongrass for the satế and transfer it to a food processor along with the shallot, garlic, and Thai chilies. Pulse into a fine paste.
    sate for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the satế paste and fry, stirring, just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chili flakes, sugar, fish sauce, and shrimp paste (if using). Let cool then place in a jar or airtight container. The satế will keep in the fridge for up to several weeks.
    sate for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

To Assemble

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions, usually 10-15 minutes for properly thick vermicelli. Meanwhile, heat up your bowls by filling with hot tap water. In a second saucepan, combine the soup with enough water to make 8 cups then bring to a low simmer. Slice the brisket and place into the soup to reheat, along with the halved meatballs, and sliced ham. When the noodles are done, drain in a colander, and rinse well with cold water and allow 2-3 minutes to dry.
    noodles for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Drain your bowls, then divide the noodles evenly between the bowls and top the noodles with the brisket, beef balls, and ham. Scoop on 1-2 tablespoons of the satế depending on your taste for saltiness and spiciness – you can always add more later.
    building a bowl of bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Ladle on the piping hot broth. Enjoy immediately topped with banana blossoms, sliced onions, sawtooth coriander, cilantro, Thai basil, and lime.
    bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

Notes

Estimated Nutrition based on approx 1/4 lb of meat total per person

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Bun Bo Hue
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1262
Calories from Fat 353
% Daily Value*
Fat 39.2g60%
Saturated Fat 10.8g68%
Cholesterol 235mg78%
Sodium 1116mg49%
Potassium 980mg28%
Carbohydrates 85.5g29%
Fiber 4.2g18%
Sugar 12.7g14%
Protein 127.9g256%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.