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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bun Bo Hué - Vietnamese beef noodle soup with pig's feet

Well, now let's start with my personal Master Piece: this recipe would worth a web site of its own. Since 20 years that I practice, improved and confronted this recipe, it now reaches a maturity worth spreading. Guaranteed authentic with genuine ingredients, it even earned me a critique of my stepfather when he tasted it once : too academic!.

Yahoo having suddenly stopped his Yahoo_360 service (which is no such a great loss), and its recovery procedure failing to restore my data, I had to get on the Net for traces of each of my recipes. And I was really surprised to see that my recipes have been included in numerous blogs, including Vietnamese ones! What an honor !

This soup is a legendary tradition from the city of Hué in center Vietnam. This former capital, under the lead of Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty have developed a very specific cuisine, which is now recognized as one of the most subtle in Vietnam. And luckily for me, this is where my father and stepfather are originated from.

My mother uses to say that what makes this soup so special is that it mixes beef and pork. 20 years have passed since I cooked my first Bun Bo Hue, and since then, my recipe underwent a fair amount of changes over my travels, my encounters, the alteration of my taste.

The last major encounter in that matter was a few years ago with my stepfather who was a very good cook, and who largely contributed to bring me back to a more traditional line which I naturally tend to overlook.

So there it is, the recipe for 10 bowls of this magnificent
Bún Bò Huế (genuine accentuation there) soup.

  • 500 grams of pork hocks cut in 8 pieces
  • 2 pig's feet (ask your butcher to give you the front feets since they are thiner, and to cut into 6 pieces. I remember I once seriously damaged one of my favorite kitchen knife in trying to cut a pig's feet)
  • 1 kg of beef brisket boneless
  • 8 stalks lemongrass
  • 4 tbs (tablespoons) of Mam Rước (shrimp paste, brown-violet colored with the consistency of a thick cream)
  • 4 tsp (teaspoon) Bun Bo Hue spices, which can be found in asian products stores. It is mainly chili, garlic and seeds of red annetto. A few months ago, this product was removed from the shelfs in France, and therefore I explain below how to replace this ingredient.
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 large onions
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 inches long and one thick)
  • 4 shallots
  • Rice vermicelli fresh or dried. These are thick rice vermicelli, not the thin ones
  • 2 tasteful tomatoes

for serving

  • Rau Ram leaves (pronounce Rao ram) or polygonum (latin nickname). This is a crucial ingredient, and so is the freshness of the leaves.
  • Eventually banana flowers, cut into thin strips(This is lao influence, and shall not be considered in the traditional line)
  • White Onions
  • black grounded pepper
  • Nuoc Mam
  • Lime
  • Fresh red and green small peppers thinly minced
Notice that Thai basil, coriander, mint leaves are not listed there since they don't really match with Rau Ram.

Rau Ram leaves or Polygonum
This leaves are often used in Hue's cuisine. It is used in salad (delicious Ga Xe Phay, Jack fruit salad, and sometimes Banh Xeo). You can keep it in the fridge for about a week, but the easiest way is to reuse the stems from which you removed the leaves and allow it to develop roots in a glass of water on the balcony. Later, you can move the stems in gardening soil. The whole process doesn't take more than two weeks.

  1. Crush the cloves of garlic,
  2. Chop the shallots.
  3. Chop finely 3 stalks of lemongrass
  4. Cut the beef brisket into slices 5mm thick, 5 cm long et 2 cm wide. Place the beef in a bowl with these ingredients, and add two tbs of peanut oil.
  5. Add salt and pepper, add 2 tbs of nuoc mam, mix, knead and marinate for two hours.
  6. Boil 5 liters of water in a large soup pot.
  7. Once the water boils, reduce the heat in order to obtain a gentle boiling. This is important in order to preserve the broth clarity. Add the pig's feet and the pieces of pork's hocks. Add the coarse salt and allow to boil gently for two hours while continously removing the foam the broth will produce.
  8. Put two tbs of peanut oil in a cast iron casserole. When oil is hot, add the two tsp of Bun Bo Hue spices, which will turn brown within seconds. Keeping the heat high, add the marinated beef meat. Stir constantly, and when the meat is well colored, add the tomatoes cut in pieces. Continue to stir until the tomatoes have completely melted in the pan (about ten minutes).
  9. Update: This famous blend of Bun Bo Hue spices (Oriental Flavour Mixed Chili Gia Vi Bun Bo Hue) has become impossible to find in French Asian stores recently. I finally had the explanation: I don't know about the US market, but in France, the distributor lost its marketing authorization for this product (what the hell did they put in it). But fortunately the parade is very simple since annetto seeds can still be found in France. Heat 3 tbs of peanuts oil in a pan and when the oil is hot, add 3 tbs of red annetto seeds, and a tsp of dried peppers. When the oil turns orange, add a ladle of broth in the pan, filter back to the main pot, discarding the seeds.
  10. Notice that if you want to degrease the broth (my guess, if you are on a diet, simply avoid Bun Bo Hue), you need to do it before this stage, since each spoon of fat you discard will also take away from the broth, some of its essence.
  11. Next, put 3 ladles of the broth in a bowl and dissolve 4 tbs of Mam rước into it, stirring constantly until the complete dissolution of the paste. You can then add the content of the bowl back to the main pot.
  12. crush four stalks of lemongrass using a pastry roll and cut into 10 cm long sections. Add to the pot.
  13. Cut onions in four and put them on a dish, and under the grill in the oven. Allow them to grill until their skin turns brown. You can also use a pan to do this, adding a little peanut oil and stirring occasionally. When the onions have turned brown, add them to the main pot. These grilled onions will slightly sweeten the broth.
  14. Then add the cinnamon stick, 10 tbsp of nuoc mam, salt and pepper. Taste the broth and add Nuoc Mam or salt to match your taste.
  15. Leave the pot uncovered over medium heat (gently boiling) for 2 1/2 hours and thirty.
  16. After 2 1/2 hours, remove the pig's feets, the beef and the pork's shank and allow it to cool in the fridge (it will be easer to cut). Remove from heat and let the broth to cool until dinner time. Ideally, you can let the broth rest for one our two hours.
  17. Meanwhile, boil a large quantity of water (enough for the vermicelli to grow during cooking in a clear water. If you don't use enough water, then the noodles will be too sticky and the temperature of the water will drop suddenly as you introduce the noodles.
  18. Wash the herbs, detach the leaves from the Raum Ram stems, slice young onions, minced the pepper and crush it gently with a spoon.
  19. When the water is boiling add a tbsp of oil from the broth and one tsp of salt. Add the noodles. Dried noodles takes 15 minutes to be al dente. Rinse vermicelli under cold water to stop the cooking process and drain.
  20. When the meat is cold, its become firmer and easier to cut. Slice the pork's hock, the beef brisket being already sliced down.
  1. In each bowl, place the noodles, beef, a few slices of shank and a foot piece of pork. Then pour the broth through a sieve until the meat is covered. Drain the content of the bowl returning the broth to the main pot, to warm up the noodles and meat.
  2. Place on top of the meat minced Rau Ram, white onion (which should not touch the broth), et piece of lime et Add in a little bowl of onion white, Rau Ram, a piece of lime, and little fresh grounded pepper using a pepper mill. Serve immediately.
This soup is a bit heavy in the stomach, and I sometimes make a lighter version, by throwing the first broth, degrease thoroughly the broth, removing the pork's hocks or using only one pig's feet.

Anyway, it doesn't looks like me, I like fat. Let's be generous.

It might sound odd at first, but this soup goes along very well with a glass of red wine. Personaly, I likely taste a powerful and tannic wine such as Cahors. No need to take an expensive though. Saint Chinian for the summer is not too bad, we can serve a fresher.

Well this was my first post on the blog, but I have plenty of recipes, some being already on the french blog. Besides, I have about 70 handwritten pages of my grand mother recipes, but hey, we'll go slowly.

Still, I can tease my reader a little bit by anouncing the upcoming recipes :

  • Banh Cuon (ravioli, pork and shrimp)
  • Banh bot loc (ravioli, pork and shrimp tapicoa in banana leaves)
  • Pho (Best Pho recipe ever. I got it from a small restaurant in Paris, which cook died 10 years ago, but luckily he gave me the recipe . It was sad, but guess what : He left me his recipe on is deathbed. It is a quite complex one, but I have never tasted such a good Pho).
  • Banh Beo,typical Hue-style dish consisting of steamed rice pancakes topped with "shrimps cotton". The recipe along with a very valuable booklet was religiously given to me by my father, who received it from his mother. I then had to wait five years after his death to find in the person of my stepfather, a trusted translator. Believe me, it worth waiting.
  • Banh Xeo: Rice flour pancake from Hue, again.
And many more...


  1. This Recipe was AMAZING!

    Thanks for sharing! My soup turned out REALLY DELICIOUS!

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