Bún bò Huế - spicy beef noodle soup

Bún bò Huế - spicy beef noodle soup

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By Lili Tu

Hue is the formal capital of Vietnam and still known as Imperial City. Hue's imperial past has left the city with a delicate cuisine with many exquisite dishes.

Bún bò Huế, spicy beef noodle soup, is one of those. It hasn’t yet made its way to the spotlight like the mighty Pho but once you try it, it is absolutely addictive.

BBH, as many Australian-Vietnamese would abbreviate its name, features a broth made of pork bones and beef, flavoured with lemongrass, stained red from chillies and annatto seeds, serve with thick rice noodles, thinly slices beef gravy and pork, pork knuckles, pork terrine and cubes of blood jelly.

Bun bo hue

BBH isn’t completed if missing a garden of herbs and salad, especially shredded banana blossom, lime and chilli alongside.

Vietnamese herbs

It is an incredibly tasty bowl of soup although it’s a true labour of love.

As a Hanoi girl, I fell in love with BBH when came to Saigon and only started to cook BHH in Melbourne. It’s not because I couldn’t find a good BHH at restaurants here but I found creating that rich and orange stock with delicate lemongrass flavour and a hint of shrimp paste was a great challenge.

Obviously, it’s impossible to success at the first few attempts.

The earthy shrimp paste, the key ingredient in Hue cuisine, could add a special kick and a layer of umami to the dish if know to use it right. However, just a little over or using the wrong technique, you ruin your stock. The pungent aroma of shrimp paste will become very unpleasant if you add it to hot food. Always mix it with cold water then use the clear water from the mixture and add it in food at the start of the cooking.

To cook traditional version of BBH with all the toppings and garnish, including the cubes of blood jelly and banana blossoms is a work of labour. Therefore, we have simplified the recipe so it’s much easier to manage it.

What are essential elements of Hue beef noodle soup – Bun Bo Hue? It has to be the stock, without the red, rich, lemongrass flavour stock, it wouldn’t be BBH. And of course, it wouldn’t be beef noodle soup without beef. The rest are very important but could be omitted if you short of time but crave for this addictive soup. 

Bun bo Hue

Total cooking time: 2hrs - Servers: 8

Main ingredients: 

  • 1.5kg beef gravy, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1.5kg chicken bones
  • 250g Bun Bo Hue rice vermicelli
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 5cm ginger, slice
  • 1 brown onion, peel
  • 10g rock sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste

Chilli oil

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon annatto seeds
  • 1 stalks lemongrass, white part minced
  • 1 Asian shallot, minced
  • 20g chilli flakes


  • 1 bunch spring onion
  • 1 bunch corianders
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch Thai basil
  • 100g bean sprouts
  • Lime and chilli to serve


  1. Tie beef gravy with cotton string. Combine the shrimp paste with ½ cup cold water, mix well and leave for few minutes. Cut lemongrass stalks to 10 cm pieces. Use the side of a knife to smash the lemongrass stalks. Marinade the beef with the shrimp paste, lemongrass, gingers, 1teaspoon salt, rock sugar and peppers for 1 hour.
  2. To prepare the broth, wash the chicken bones under cold water and place in a large saucepan filled with hot boiled water. Bring it just to the boil again, discard all the dirty water and rinse the bones again. This step helps remove the scum in the broth.
  3. In a stockpot, add the bones, beef and all the marinade, whole brown onion with coconut juice. Pour in 2 litres cold water and bring it to the boil over medium heat, skimming the surface regularly. When it reaches boiling point, reduce heat and simmer half uncovered for about 60-90 minutes or until the meat tender.
  4. Remove the meat from the stock and continue simmering the stock over the low heat. Season the stock with fish sauce before serving.
  5. Heat the oil in a skillet, stir fry the annatto seeds until the oil turns reddish. Remove from the heat, strain the oil and discard the seeds.
  6. Reheat the oil over medium heat and stir-fry the minced lemongrass and Asian shallot until fragrant. Add half of the mixture for the stock. Turn off the heat and add the chilli flakes to the hot oil, stir well to make homemade chilli paste for serving.
  7. Cook the noodles as package instructions.
  8. Thinly slice the beef. Chop the spring onion and coriander. Wash the bean sprouts and Thai Basil.
  9. To assemble, add about 1 cup of cooked vermicelli in a bowl, sliced beef. Ladle the hot soup over the noodle and garnish with chopped green onion, coriander and onion slices.
  10. Serve hot with lime wedges, homemade chilli paste, fresh chilli and garnish vegetables on the side.

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