I do like Pho. It's great. It's what's for breakfast all over Vietnam.
But my favourite noodle soup here is a spicy beef and lemongrass number that you DON'T find all over the place.
It is a regional dish from the old imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam which is a couple of hours North of Da Nang City where I live and work.
I'm missing my Thai street food – the flavours and aromas that engage your senses in a kerb-side tango.
Da Nang is sadly lacking in that respect but Bun Bo Hue is a flavoursome soul-warming bowl of bliss that makes me want to waste a morning driving back to Hue City for more.
Here's the recipe – make it, fall in love and gobble it without shame.
It's a two bowl dish. You order one – and then after you finish it you KNOW that you've had sufficient to fuel your body and sate your appetite. But you order another one anyway. It's that good.
Here's how to do it the way they do in Hue.
Bun Bo Hue stock – spicy Hue noodle soup from Central Vietnam
6 litres water
1kg stewing beef (brisket or chuck is good. Also shank, shin or oxtail,)
3 – 4kg fresh meaty beef bones
10 lemongrass stalks
1 onion, peeled, medium size, charred
1 each fresh ginger root – charred
4 cloves of garlic – charred
6 each peeled red shallots
10-25g Shrimp paste (about 1 tsp to 1 dsp) depends on strength of shrimp paste and to taste
5g MSG (Ajinomoto) 1 tsp
60ml cooking oil (4 tbsp)
60ml nuoc mam or nam pla / fish sauce (4 tablespoons)
4 teaspoons mushroom granules (Knorr, Maggi or Ajinomoto)
Rock sugar or 60g local brown sugar
Salt to taste.
100ml cooking oil
20g annatto seeds (1 tbsp)
2 lemongrass stalks
15g chopped shallots
20g chopped garlic 10g sugar (2 tsp)
4-6 red Thai chillies, fresh, minced
red chilli powder, to taste ½ to ¾ tsp
- Blanching the bones and meat:
- Soak the bones with cold salted water to remove blood
- After a few hours of soaking, blanch both in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then discard blanching water.
- Cut the stewing beef into 3 or 4 pieces so it is easier to handle and easier to slice when cooked. Slice with the grain, so when it is cooked it can be cut across the grain into pieces that can fit on a spoon.
- Fry or roast the beef bones to deep golden brown and put into a stock pot. Cover with the water. Bring slowly to a simmer.
Char the ginger root over a gas flame until the skin is blackened. Wrap in foil or put in a small steel dish or bowl and clingwrap to the skin will sweat. After 10-15 minutes wash under the tap and remove skin by rubbing. Crush the ginger with a knife or cleaver.
Char the garlic cloves – then crush with a cleaver.
Char the onion over the gas burner also. Cut into 3 pieces
Add the charred onion, ginger and garlic into the stock pot and keep at a very gentle simmer.
Peel and wash the lemongrass.
Slice the soft white parts at the base very finely. Keep the top parts whole, but crush & add to the stockpot.
Finely chop the sliced lemongrass with a sharp knife.
Pound in a stone mortar and pestle or puree in a high RPM food processor until minced finely
Sauté shallots and the stewing beef in the annatto oil over medium heat until light golden brown. Add ground lemongrass & shrimp paste. Sauté a minute or two more, then season with fish sauce. Add some water, and scrape residue off the bottom of the pan with wooden spoon then add all into the stock pot.
Simmer the stock
Skim often removing any oil and scum.
Add salt, mushroom granules, rock sugar & MSG.
Simmer for 4-5 hours in total BUT:
Check the stewing beef and remove when very tender – From when you add the beef into the stock it should take 2-3 hours to cook through until very tender.
Don’t over cook the meat or it will fall apart and dry out.
When the meat is very tender, remove from the pot and cool down covered with some of the stock so it doesn’t dry out.
Then keep the stock ticking over gently until finished.
It can be done in as little as 3 hours but a bit longer gives it depth and richness.
Saté sauce to add to the stock when finished
- Simmer annatto seeds in oil until the oil is red.
- Strain and discard annatto seeds.
- Sauté minced Thai chillies with shallots and crushed garlic in annatto oil until golden.
- Add 1tbsp minced lemongrass. Continue cooking until it smells great. A minute or two more.
- Puree in mortar and pestle (or blender).
- Add chilli powder, and nuoc mam ( fish sauce/nam pla).
- Add a little stock and stir into thin it out a bit to pouring consistency.
- After the stock is fully cooked and finished, stir this saté sauce mix into the stock to enrich it and finish it off.
- Remove whole lemongrass stalks and discard.
- The stock is ready to use.
Serve with bun noodles (thin white round rice vermicelli noodles , or can also use somen or khanom jeen noodles)
Take your pick of meat garnish.
Use the stewed beef cooked in the stock, thinly sliced. Also some fresh beef tenderloin thinly shaved and placed on the finished dish which will cook rare when you ladle the boiling broth over it.
Small dumplings of minced beef with lemongrass & shallot are delicious in the soup also.
For a texture contrast and truly local flourish, chunks of compressed blood cake are de rigeur amongst the local Hue breakfast set. They serve as a rite of passage for foreigners too. Why buck the trend?
Spring onion, mint, ram leaf and coriander are happy topping companions. Lash out and try it. I dare you.
Bun bo appetite!