Vietnam has a lot of noodle soups, and they are all different.
I always try to break down the translation of the words for myself because I find that the more individual words I recognise in a language, the easier I find it to work out what and how a country eats.
The name translates as bún (noodles) bò (beef) Huê (pronounced more like hoo-ay) the imperial city in the central region of the country where the dish originates.
The area is famed for its cuisine and its relative spiciness compared with other Vietnamese dishes. According to Lonely Planet, Emperor Tu Duc was quite the fussy eater and this lead to Huê’s culinary distinctions from other areas of the country.
Bún bò Huê consists of a plethora of ingredients, and after looking at a few recipes seemingly takes time, diligence and a lot of specific ingredients to create.
It’s a deep, rich base of pork and beef stock, coloured red from the inclusion of annatto seeds, flavoured with lemongrass, pineapple, onion and Vietnamese shrimp paste, mam ruoc. The broth is filled with bún noodles – thicker than you would find in bún cha, or bún thịt nướng, more like worms and less like spaghetti – with beef and pork meat. It’s commonplace to have pork knuckles (and have read about trotters) bobbing about in the soup broth with blood cubes and cha. In our experience, we were saved from the gelatinous blood cubes and had tasty knuckle included in the soup.
Cha is a kind of Vietnamese sausage, or meatloaf which is often added to soups – it’s made by grounding meat with spices and fish sauce into a paste and then wrapping in banana leaves before steaming or boiling. Cha can also be found served with bánh cuốn & xôi.
Photo sourced from Flickr via a creative commons license. Thanks, Long Khủng.
Like a lot of other Vietnamese dishes it is served with a mount of fresh herbs. These usually contain mint, Vietnamese coriander, purple perilla and in this case slithers of banana blossom too.
It’s a really tasty soup, a good dish to try to differentiate tastes from other Vietnamese soup dishes, such as phở.
Although this is a Huê dish, it’s available throughout the country in speciality restaurants – in Hanoi, there is a popular restaurant ‘Net Hue’ chain which serves Hue classics, it’s cheap and has English language menus so popular with both locals and tourists. In Siagon/HCMC we found Bún Bò Huế Đông Ba via the useful blog eatingsaigon. In Hue, it will just be referred to as ‘Bún bò’.
Some useful phrases
Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants
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