Bún bò Huế is a hidden Vietnamese gem that has yet to “make it” in mainstream American cuisine. It’s a rich and spicy soup with deep layers of flavor. This Central Vietnamese soup is paired with tender slices of beef and pork, then topped with lots of fresh herbs.
I consulted my favorite Vietnamese cook–Mom–on how to make bún bò Huế. And to find out subleties that make BBH authentic. I promise you’ll love this version!
Not as Popular As Phở Yet?
Phở has claimed some serious territory here and has grown popular quickly, so why isn’t its equally spicy and attractive cousin allowed to join the party?
It has a lot of familiar and identifiable ingredients–a good step in getting people to eat something new. BBH has a few curveballs that could be holding it back from quicker adoption: shrimp paste and pork blood. I’m not sure America is ready for this as a mainstay yet, whereas pho’s concept is easily recognizable and pitched as beef or chicken noodle soup.
Some Bún Bò Huế History
The city of Huế was put on the map as Vietnam’s capital in 1802 when the Nguyen Dynasty seized control of the country and ruled from this central city.
This city has a reputation for having spicy foods–not something as common with other Vietnamese cuisine.. My mom believes there’s no real reason for it other than trying to boost flavor when there weren’t other options. Sounds kinda like what you hot sauce fiends out there do yeah?
Huế also just happens to be the origin of many of my favorite dishes. This city is responsible for bánh nậm, bánh bột lọc, cơm hến (omg), and of course bún bò Huế. Lez get cookin!
There Will Be Blood (Congealed and Cubed)
An authentic component of BBH is cubes of congealed pork blood. You coagulate it by sitting fresh blood in a container, then boiling with salt to solidify it. It’s kinda dense, slightly chewy and holds its shape when bitten.
On a recent episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain dishes on what he needs in a romantic partner: “I would definitely bring a date for [bun bo hue]. 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.”
If making BBH just for myself, I’d forfeit my chances with Bourdain and skip the pork blood. Shh!
Seriously… Gwen Stefani has ruined my life. I can’t say, think, or spell “bananas” without singing her wretched song. But anyways…another interesting & traditional ingredient here is sliced banana flower (or banana blossoms).
You can find these in Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and other Asian markets. I even found this at a local Persian market! This is a neat addition to this dish but is by no means required. If you can’t find banana flower, move on. You can still make some amazing BBH without it.
Prepare your bowl of lemon water, then remove all the petals. Discard all the little fronds (the mini banana-like fellas). The lemon keeps the petals from browning and removes some of its bitter taste.
Unless it’s a Huế-specific restaurant, shops don’t bother serving this because it’s pricey and troublesome to prepare. If you don’t have access to these blossoms, you can do as the restaurants do and use red cabbage as a stand-in.
I have a recipe for the spicy chile paste that goes with BBH… I promise your sweat glands it’s coming soon!
- 2 pounds beef shank
- 2 pounds oxtail
- 2 pounds pork hocks
- 1 pound Huế style pork sausage (chả Huế, which has garlic and whole peppercorns)
- 1 pound block of pork blood
- 8 qt pot. add meat, water to fill qt pot to the rim
- 2 12-ounce cans chicken broth
- 10-12 stalks lemongrass. Remove the leafy tops, smash the roots (~1lb)
- 2 large onions, halved. For sweetness, not eating--remove from the broth after it's fully cooked.
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons shrimp paste (Lee Kum Kee brand)
- 3-4 tablespoons fishsauce
- 2 teaspoons MSG (if you're not using oxtail, use 4 teaspoons here)
- 3 tablespoons anatto seeds
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons shallot (takes longer to brown), optional
- 2 tablespoons garlic
- bean sprouts
- birds eye chile or jalapeno
- banana flower
- 2 cups water
- juice of 1 lemon (optional)
- 1 package dried rice noodle, medium or large thickness
- Clean the meat: Add all meat to a stock pot and enough water to submerge it, bring to a boil. Drain and rinse thoroughly under running water.
- Add the meat, broth, lemongrass and onions to the pot and fill with water almost to the brim. Bring to a boil then drop the heat to medium-high to maintain a low boil. Add the seasoning.
- Let it simmer and periodically check the meats for doneness and remove them as they finish cooking. The pork should be done after about an hour, the beef can vary between 2-3 hours.
- After all the meat has removed, let it cool, then slice it. Adjust seasoning and add water to the broth pot if necessary.
- Make the aromatics & coloring then add it to the pot.
- Boil noodles according to package instructions.
- Assemble your bowl, and serve with herbs and veg on a side platter.
- Sauté seeds in oil on medium heat until the seeds give up the bright red color, then remove the seeds.
- Add shallots and garlic, sauté until brown.
- Add all of this to the pot of broth for color.
- The easiest thing to do is just buy it already cooked and boil just to heat it up. If you use the raw type like we did for this recipe, cut into 1" cubes and boil for 30-45 minutes
- Prepare a bowl of about 2 cups of water, mixed with the juice of 1 lemon.
- Thinly slice the banana flower and add to the water mixture to sit for about 30 minutes.
- Avoid adding little fronds (that look like mini bananas), removing them as you encounter them. They taste bitter!