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Much like pho, bun bo hue is a fantastic bowl of brothy noodle goodness. Specifically, it’s a spicy, complex beef broth fragrant with lemongrass that’s ladled over rice vermicelli noodles, then topped with various sliced proteins and fresh vegetable and herb garnishes, but it’s got a different flavor profile than its more famous relative: spicier, yet also sweet and deeply savory, without the usual warm, sweet scents of cinnamon, clove, and anise often found in pho.
All cooks have their own variation; for instance, many base the broth on pork instead of beef, in which case it would technically just be bun hue (“bo” means beef, “bun” means noodles, and “hue” refers to the city where the dish originated).
Madame Vo chef Jimmy Ly notes that in Hue, the birthplace of the soup, the broth is more clear—but since his family is from southern Vietnam, he cooks with more spice and ends up with a richer, redder broth like in the recipe below. He also adds smashed ginger to the broth to help purify it and impart another layer of flavor.
It all starts with boiled beef bones, but aromatic lemongrass—which you get to smash with a mallet, in case you want to work out some aggression—fresh pineapple, the aforementioned ginger, and red onion are added to the pot for extra flavor. To bump it up even more, the chef sautes a hefty amount of minced garlic, minced lemongrass, and a lot of paprika (that’s where the red tint comes from, though oftentimes in Vietnamese cuisine that will be thanks to annatto oil), then adds the flavor-packed paste to the pot. A bit later on, he tempers it and further adjusts the balance of flavors with fermented shrimp paste, fish sauce, and rock sugar for a complex broth with heat, sweetness, salt, umami depth, and funk (in the best way possible), all in perfect harmony.
Eventually, the intoxicating broth is ladled over cooked rice noodles (a little larger than the more common fine vermicelli), sliced beef shank and Vietnamese ham (a sort of steamed pork loaf, which you’ll often find on banh mi), and a veritable garden of fresh vegetable garnishes, including red cabbage, chilies, scallions, and fresh herbs.
One traditional accompaniment we didn’t include is congealed pig’s blood, cut into cubes—but by all means, add it if you want to; ditto sliced tendon. Or try sliced pork belly, banana flower, shallots, etc. There’s no wrong way to build your bowl! When it’s to your liking, add a squirt of lime if you think it could use a little acid to offset the other flavors before you eat, and prepare to forget about pho, at least for a little while.
We’ve adapted Chef Ly’s restaurant recipe for bun bo hue to something you can make a little more easily at home in your Instant Pot—but feel free to follow the stovetop method if you have six hours or so to spare. Either way, you’ll end up with an incredibly flavorful and delicious bowl of noodle soup.
Note: Since the Quoc Viet soup base contains salt, sugar, fermented shrimp, paprika, and other spices already, in order to make the whole process quicker, you can skip the step of sauteing a fresh paste of garlic, lemongrass, etc. on the stovetop—but if you want to do that too, you can follow along with the video and add that paste to the broth for an even more intense flavor.
- 1 1/2 pounds beef shank
- 2 pounds beef bones (shin bones and marrow bones)
- 2 red onions, peeled, one left whole, the other sliced for garnish
- 5 stalks lemongrass (see how to prepare fresh lemongrass)
- 1/4 fresh pineapple, peeled (see tips on how to cut a pineapple)
- thumb-size knob of fresh ginger, smashed (no need to peel)
- 4 tablespoons Quoc Viet bun bo hue seasoning
- 1 thumb-size piece of rock sugar (or to taste)
- kosher salt (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon chile saute oil (more to taste)
- fish sauce (to taste)
- fermented shrimp paste (to taste)
- 1 small head cabbage, purple or green, thinly sliced (on a mandoline if you have one)
- 1 bunch scallions or green onions, sliced
- 1 bunch cilantro and/or basil (Thai basil if you can find it)
- bean sprouts
- lime wedges
- fresh chilies, sliced
- extra-large vermicelli noodles (labeled for “bun bo”)
- sliced cha lua (Vietnamese ham/pork roll); if you have trouble finding it and are up for another project, make your own
1. Fill Instant Pot with 2 liters water (or about 8 1/2 cups) and beef bones. Set to saute and bring to a boil (should take about 20 minutes) and boil bones for 15-20 minutes to remove impurities. Discard water, rinse the boiled bones and the pot to remove any scum, and place cleaned bones back into pot.
2. Remove outer layers and tough bottoms and tops of lemongrass. Discard or compost the trimmings, then use the back of a heavy knife or a mallet to smash stalks so they’ll infuse more flavor into the broth. Fold them in half if too long to fit into your pot (you can also tie the stalks together with kitchen twine if you have it, to make it easier to fish them out at the end). Add them to the Instant Pot.
3. Add the whole peeled red onion, peeled piece of pineapple, smashed ginger, Quoc Viet seasoning, rock sugar, and 2 tablespoons kosher salt to pot. Fill with fresh water to max line on Instant Pot.
4. Lock on lid, make sure valve is set to sealing, and set Instant Pot to manual high pressure for 30 minutes. When it’s done, protect your hand with a heavy oven mitt or kitchen towels, and turn valve to venting to quick release pressure.
5. Add the beef shank to the pot and submerge completely to prevent darkening. Cook for another 15 minutes on manual high pressure, then quick release.
6. Remove beef shank and thinly slice. Set aside.
7. Remove lemongrass, pineapple, onion, ginger, and bones from broth. Discard or compost them. Add enough water to bring the liquid level up to max line and taste for seasoning; adjust with salt (and/or fish sauce), shrimp paste, chile oil, and/or more sugar if necessary. The flavors should be balanced, but everything is also meant to be to your taste.
8. Boil vermicelli according to package directions, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. This also gives them a little bounce.
9. To assemble your bun bo hue, use tongs or a strainer to portion noodles into shallow bowls. Layer your desired protein (including the sliced beef shank and sliced Vietnamese ham, if using) and veggie garnishes (onions, cabbage, chilies, bean sprouts, scallions, and/or herbs) on top.
10. Ladle the hot broth over each bowl. Serve with lime wedges.
If cooking on the stove, plan on simmering the bones to make the broth for several hours (add the beef shank in the last two hours, then remove, slice it, and set aside before you finish seasoning the broth).
- Rubber mallet.
- Wok. If you’re making the fresh garlic-lemongrass-paprika paste, a seasoned wok will help keep things moving while you saute the aromatics.
- Good sharp knife. This style of Japanese knife makes precise slicing and dicing of meats and veggies easy (just watch your fingers).
- Pride of India Natural Rock Sugar. Slightly less sweet than granulated sugar, add this a few pieces at a time to balance the flavors of your broth. Try it in other soups, sauces, and even tea too. Buy Now
- Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce. Use this to further adjust your broth for both salt and umami flavor. Buy Now
- Sichuan Chili Crisp from Fly by Jing. Add a little spice to the broth—and offer on the side for anyone who desires more heat. Buy Now
- Lee Kum Kee Fermented Shrimp Sauce. The jar says sauce, but this is the same as fermented shrimp paste, which adds a great savory note (don’t be scared of the pungent smell). Buy Now
- Quoc Viet Foods Cot Bun Bo Hue Style Beef Flavored Soup Base. This concentrated bun bo hue soup base helps you get maximum flavor even when making a quick version of the dish. Buy Now
- Quoc Viet Foods Vegetarian Hue Style Soup Base. If you want to make a veggie version, use this soup base in plain water (and omit the beef shank, fish sauce, and fermented shrimp paste from the recipe, of course). Buy Now
- Asian Best Premium Rice Vermicelli. Look for larger rice noodles for this dish. Buy Now
- Read more about bun rice noodles, including some specific brands to look for in Asian markets.