Bun Bo Hue – The Recipe

After extracting ingredients and instructions from my brother in law, I went to acquire the items that I did not have at home at the Asian grocery nearest to me. I wandered around and around the aisles – it’s only a small store, but I find its logic incomprehensible. I picked up my ingredients and went looking for the stock cubes. I just had to see them, and ponder why and whether to use them. I found the cubes. One for pho, one for Bun Bo Hue, one for Bun Rieu, one for canh chua (sour soup). And they were hilarious. Their ingredient list? Salt, MSG, spices. All of them listed those three ingredients and nothing else. Definitely not going to buy stock cubes (but thank you for the offer, Hedgehog).

What you will need if you want to make Bun Bo Hue

For the eating:

Noodles – I used pho noodles because that’s what I had in the cupboard and I wanted to use it up, but thick round rice vermicelli is best.

Thin slices of beef and meatloaf that you can buy from most Asian grocery stores. It’s called cha lua in case you want to buy it. I didn’t because there was plenty of meat on my soup bones and we don’t eat that much meat. You can also add liver (ugh) and blood cubes (also ugh), but not having them is okay too. I’m a laissez faire kinda diner.

Herbs – you will need holy basil, spring onions, coriander

Bean sprouts – it ain’t no Viet noodle soup without bean sprouts! I have a Viet-Australian friend who shares my family name – but, no, she is not related to me, really and no, we’re definitely not sisters, or twins and nor do we look like each other although we do both have long hair and wear glasses – and who cannot abide bean sprouts. I find this thoroughly shocking.

Fish sauce.

Shrimp paste mixed with chilli and lemon.

Nice large soup bowls! Chopsticks, spoons, etc. Oh, you will need serviettes or tissues handy, as this is a runny nose kinda soup.

For the soup:

Beef (or pork, if you prefer) stock bones. Oxtail is best (I channel my bro-in-law) but I again just used what I had in the freezer.*

Lemongrass – mince some finely (about half a cup full) and some chopped into approximately two-inch long sticks. I tend to mince mostly the thick white base, and use the long leafy bit of the lemongrass for the sticks, with a few of the thick white base bits.

Chilli – depending on taste and fieriness of chillis, three or five finely minced.

Shrimp paste – this will stink out your fridge once you open it, so I store mine in its glass jar, inside another plastic container, thereby jailing its pungency.

Oil. I use olive, but any would be fine. Except perhaps sesame or peanut.

Chilli oil – for cheating with (all will be made clear).

The three essentials: onion (one), ginger (thumb-sized knob), garlic (um, half a clove?) – charred

About two litres of water.

A big stockpot

A frying pan

Another saucepan for pre-parboiling of stock bones

How to make it:

Parboil the stock bones first; boil on medium-high heat until a brownish froth appears. Then wash the bones in warm water and discard the boiling water. Set aside until its grand moment.

Char onion, ginger and garlic.

Using the flat of a large knife, squash the lemongrass sticks. This releases their lovely flavour.

In a little bit of oil, fry up about a teaspoon-full of the shrimp paste with about a quarter of the minced lemongrass. Don’t let this burn (add little bits of water if you’re worried that it will). Add stock bones and fry them in the shrimp paste for a bit. Add the lemongrass sticks, onion, ginger, garlic and water and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and let simmer for an hour or so.

Fry minced lemongrass and chilli in about a tablespoon full of oil and add to the stock. The soup should have a lovely red tinge. If it doesn’t, add some more chilli oil. Red tinge, ta dah!

Simmer again on even lower heat for as long as your patience or hunger will permit, and taste the stock. If too bland, add some fish sauce but remember that fish sauce also gets added at the eating part so don’t over flavour the stock. You want it to taste of your lovely ingredients.

The soup is ready when the meat on the bone is soft and tender, and falls nicely away with only minimal persuasion on your part.

Assemble your bowls and eat with relish.

As I was eating, I couldn’t quite remember what Bun Bo Hue was supposed to taste of. I could not call up any memories of eating Bun Bo Hue with my family. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered it in a Viet restaurant (I find pho on the menu difficult to resist if I want to eat a noodle soup). But my version was yummy. The household food-critic (my partner) declared it delicious but that pho was better. As always, he is right.

*So, why all this ‘using up’? Because I’m moving!** Woo hoo! To a house! With a yard! Hurrah!

** Post-lude:

After such a promising end to my last post, I neglected. I am sorry. I’m rubbish. The reason I’m rubbish is still the same, but in addition: I was moving and then I did move. From my little flat, into a house. I’m off internet connection for a bit, and I have photos to go with this post, which I will update later. I’ll also respond to comments from the last post, later. Later.



  1. Found your recipe – and blog – quite by accident through a link from the Club Troppo site’s daily Missing Link.

    Shall try to cook some in the next few weeks; [No lemon grass handy and will have to wait for the new lot of coriander to grow a bit more; besides, bean sprouts will have to wait until next shopping trip into town]. Would sesame oil do instead of olive oil?

    Cam o’n nhieu lam. 🙂

    Graham Bell
    [in the Central Queensland bush]


  2. Moving? And just when you went with Bokashi. You could have gone with an Earth Machine instead. 😉


  3. Hi Graham

    Thanks for alerting me to me being on Club Troppo’s Missing Links! I would never have known otherwise.

    Sesame oil is too flavoursome to substitute in this recipe – try any random vegetable oil instead (sunflower / rapeseed).

    Oh, I miss the central Qld bush. Grow some lemongrass too! You’ll have it forever, and it doesn’t even need that much water…

    WC – I know! But getting the Bokashi just made me want to move more. Now I can garden again. Yippee!

    cong xao 🙂


  4. Hi Oanh,

    I came to your blog when searching for a recipe for “bun bo Hue”. Thanks for the blog and I will definitely cook it soon.


  5. Hi Quan!

    Thanks – I hope you will also check out Wandering Chopsticks recipe for bun bo hue. She has a ‘pingback’ to this post at the end of the comments.

    If you’ve got time and inclination, feel free to let me know how you got on – especially if you followed my recipe. I’d love to know if it works for others!


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