Bun bo Hue is a traditional Vietnamese dish and a type of noodle soup known for its spicy broth and complex flavors. The first time I tried it, it was like tasting heaven, and I immediately wanted more. The dish originated in Hue, a city in Central Vietnam, also the former capital of Vietnam.
Like pho, bun bo Hue takes the traditional flavor game a step further. However, it is less popular than pho among Americans. Bun bo Hue is known for its many distinctive components, the first of which is the use of pork bones and blood, and the second of which is the use of herbs. However, if you can’t find this dish served anywhere nearby, what options do you have? Knowing that I couldn’t eat out every night, I set out to find a way to replicate this delicious food in my own kitchen.
To that end, I did a lot of reading and experimentation to come up with a solid bun bo Hue recipe, and now you can prepare this hearty noodle soup at home with our guidance.
What is Bun Bo Hue?
Bun bo Hue is a spicy Vietnamese beef and pork noodle soup from the village of Hue. It consists of thick noodles in a spicy hot broth, topped with beef slices, pork, and herbs. Traditional bun bo Hue broth is very spicy; this is its signature taste profile.
You can make the bun bo Hue broth with a combination of many types of bones. I’ve tried pork feet, oxtail, pork knuckles, beef shank, pork knuckles, and a bunch of lemon grass, all of which were incredible. Slowly simmer all these ingredients in a pot to get the signature broth.
History of Bun bo Hue
Bun bo Hue originates from the city of Hue in Vietnam. The name translates literally to “beef noodle soup from Hue.” Hue is famous for churning out other Vietnam favorites like banh ham and banh bot loc, both of which I strongly recommend.
The former Vietnam capital is also known for its fiery dishes with enhanced flavors. Even though bun bo Hue is traditionally eaten for breakfast in Hue, I find that I can eat it at any time of the day and still like it. Additionally, when you travel north and south, bun bo Hue takes on a variety of forms, but the original version stands out and cannot be mistaken for anything.
The people of Hue make the broth with a lineup of beef and pork parts. Typical bun bo Hue broth contains crab cakes, rare sliced beef, pork blood cakes, pork legs, and dried baby shrimp.
The sides are an assortment of fresh vegetables like Vietnamese basil, fish mint, banana blossoms, and lettuce. It may also come with a dipping sauce containing a bowl of fish sauce with fresh chili slices for a distinctive kick.
Authentic bun bo Hue has a characteristic saltiness from the shrimp paste and sweetness from baby shrimps.
Bun Bo Hue and Pho: Distant Cousins
Although pho is better known in the United States, bun bo Hue is quickly gaining momentum. Both dishes are similar, but they also bear some striking differences.
When compared to pho, the spice level of bun bo Hue is much higher. In addition, chicken and beef are the most popular meats used in making pho, and are typically served with complementary cuts of the same animal. However, pork and beef are both staples in traditional bun bo Hue, and both are cooked in the same broth. Another distinction is in the broth, which in pho is flavored with star anise, burnt onion, and ginger, among other things. Bun Bo Hue is flavored with aromatics including shallots, sate chiles, annatto seeds, and lemongrass.
Furthermore, bun bo Hue uses thick round noodles, while the name “pho” literally translates to flat noodles.
Bun Bo Hue Ingredients
Preparing the bun bo Hue broth is a detailed and time-consuming process that is rewarding. In my recipe, beef bone and lemongrass form the base of the broth, while annatto seed oil imparts color and sate chili oil adds spice.
The broth-making process is a sophisticated one involving stewing the beef and pork bones. My broth is incomplete without the use of lemongrass, chile oil, and fermented shrimp paste.
To keep the broth clear, you must occasionally skim the bubbles from the boil. This process maintains the broth clarity and helps retain a sweet but spicy taste. Fish sauce, which has a distinct umami flavor, is another of my go-to additions to the broth.
This spicy noodle dish has a chili paste that pairs perfectly with it. The chili oil or sate is the star of bun bo Hue. It is characteristically spicy, garlicky, and filled with lemongrass flavor.
I make my sate using dried Thai chile, chili powder/flakes, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and a bit of sugar. The sugar and shallots balance out the heat from the chili. In order to make a rich and savory paste, you need to rehydrate the chili in water, shred the other flavorings, and put everything in a skillet over medium heat till it becomes thick.
I also add some fish sauce to the mix to heighten the flavors. Instead of fish oil, you can use shrimp paste. Shrimp paste locally made in Hue has a bright pink color and strong umami flavors.
After the broth has been prepared, serve with a spoonful or two, depending on taste. To give diners more control over the spiciness, I typically serve the paste in a small bowl.
The Toppings and Add-Ons
Thick round rice noodles: Thick noodles are another characteristic part of bun bo Hue. I use Hue-style noodles, which are wider than vermicelli, and are closer to spaghetti than the flat type used in pho. These Hue-style noodles are made from rice rather than wheat and take about 20 minutes to cook.
Congealed pork blood: Authentic bun bo Hue does not skip the congealed pork blood. It has a texture like silk tofu; it is chewy and does not fall apart when bitten. You can thicken the blood by leaving it to sit in a container. Afterward, boil it with salt to solidify. You can find ready-made ones at your local Asian supermarket. All you have to do is heat it up.
Banana blossoms: Banana flowers are another common addition I make to bun bo Hue. Banana flowers can be quite difficult to find and prepare, so skip them if you cannot find banana blossoms. Many restaurants typically substitute banana flowers with thinly sliced red cabbage. However, to prepare, I remove the little fronds and petals and soak them in lemon water to prevent browning.
Fresh vegetables: What is a Vietnamese dish without herbs? I use Thai basil, fish mint, red onions, bean sprouts, and lime wedges for our recipe.
Cha lua: Cha lua is a Vietnamese ham you can use as a topping for bun bo Hue. It is a steamed pork sausage that you can slice thinly to garnish your dish. Alternatively, beef tenderloin and sliced beef shank are also excellent garnishes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What does bun bo Hue taste like?
Bun bo Hue is a dish best known for its spicy, salty, and sweet combination. The plate is also packed with lemongrass, giving it a unique taste. The various components of the dish offer these characteristic flavors.
- Does bun bo Hue taste like pho?
Bun bo Hue is similar to pho, but their flavor profiles differ. The former is well-known for being spicy, while the latter isn’t. Also, the predominant flavor of bun bo Hue is lemongrass, which is absent from pho.
- How do you eat bun bo Hue?
Typically, you can eat bun bo Hue with chopsticks and a soup broth spoon. Bun bo Hue may come with a serving of side vegetables. Scoop the vegetables and dunk them in the broth. Firstly, this cools down the broth.
Secondly, it helps to cut through the chili of the broth. Add your chili paste here and an optional dash of fresh lemon juice.
- Where does bun bo Hue originate?
Bun bo Hue originates from the city of Hue in Central Vietnam. Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty. It is the home of vermicelli noodles, and Hue is famous for its spicy noodle dishes.
Classic Bún Bò Huế – Spicy Vietnamese Beef & Pork Noodle Soup
- 2 lb beef shank
- 1 ½ lb pork hocks
- 1 ½ lb oxtail
- 2 lb brisket
- 1 lb cha Hue Hue-style pork
- 1 lb block of pork’s blood optional
- 10 stalks of lemongrass bruised and halved
- 20 oz of chicken broth
- 2 large yellow onions halved
- 3 tbsp salt
- 1 ½ tbsp shrimp paste
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- Enough water to cover the meat
- 2 tbsp Monosodium Glutamate
Sate (Spicy Chile Paste)
- 2 tbsp neutral cooking oil grapeseed or canola
- 18 g dried Thai chile
- Chili flakes
- 1 large shallot finely diced
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 3 stalks of lemongrass minced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp salt
Aromatics and Spices
- 3 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 3 tbsp shallots
- 3 tbsp ginger
- 3 tbsp annatto powder
- Fish mint
- Bean sprouts
- Banana blossom
- Red cabbage
- 14 oz dried rice vermicelli noodles
- In a stock pot, add all the meat and bones, cover with water for 5 minutes and let it come to a boil. After 5 minutes, drain out all the sand and scum that have gathered. Then, rinse thoroughly under running water until completely free of dirt.
- Place back in the pot with the bruised lemongrass and shallots, fill with water, add seasoning and let it boil.
- The beef will typically be ready in 2-3 hours, while the pork will be ready in an hour. Check the meat occasionally until it feels soft enough, and you can poke through it with a chopstick.
- After all the meat and bones have been cooked, remove them from the pot and slice them. Leave them to cool, and adjust the broth seasoning if necessary.
- In the meantime, put the sate ingredients in a pan and add your oil. Heat the oil under medium heat and add the lemongrass and shallots. Stir until they fry, and add minced garlic and chili pepper. Stir occasionally to prevent it from burning.
- Add the sate sauce to your broth. You can skip this step and allow people to add sate sauce alone.
- Cook the noodles until soft, drain them with coriander, and wash them under running water.
- Assemble your bowl by first placing a handful of noodles in the bowl. Add your desired meat and bones and pour the broth over it. Garnish with sliced red onions, banana blossoms, red cabbage, and pork blood cubes. Proceed to serve with a side plate of fresh vegetables and consume while hot.
Bun bo Hue is a beloved dish from Hue in Central Vietnam. Many people love and consume this spicy Vietnamese noodle soup. Although it is less popular than pho, it is making its way up the top. And with our simple guide, you can now enjoy this delicacy at home.
Traditional and authentic bun bo Hue features various pork and beef parts, congealed pork blood, and a banana blossom garnish.
Nowadays, however, many prepare the dish using simpler alternatives they can easily find in their local stores. Banana blossoms are expensive and require expertise, so many substitute them with red cabbage.
Bun bo Hue has a distinct taste of saltiness, sweetness, and spiciness. The flavor profile of this Vietnamese dish is deep and well-rounded. It’s no wonder bun bo Hue has started gaining popularity in America.