I love Vietnamese soups. Whether it’s pho, bun rieu, or Bún Măng Vịt, I always have space in my stomach for a flavorful bowl of tasty soup. This means you’ll often spot me at a local restaurant trying a flavorful favorite like bun rieu cua or falling back on a basic bowl of pho.
So why do I go out instead of making soup at home? The answer is simple: a good Vietnamese broth takes time to make. If you’re trying to make the best soup possible, you’ll have to start from scratch and make a flavorful stock over the course of several hours. In addition to time, this process requires bones and seasonings that you may not have lying around.
You can certainly take shortcuts, however. This bun rieu recipe includes the fastest way to make an authentic stock at home. If you’re in a hurry, however, you can always just buy a pre-made stock or broth from the grocery store. Your soup won’t taste quite as good, but it will still be more than delicious enough to give you an evening of enjoyment.
Without further ado, here’s how to make bun rieu:
This incredibly fast pork stock takes under an hour to get going. You’ll let it simmer for about another hour afterward. We leave the bones in as long as possible to get a little bit more flavor out, but be sure to avoid accidentally serving bones to your guests. Just watch for them as you ladle out the soup!
3 lb pork bones
21 cups water (you’ll need to either have a large pot or to reduce the recipe)
In a large pot, cover the pork bones with water (you don’t need a lot) and salt generously. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain the liquid and rinse the pork bones in a colander.
Clean any pork bits out of your pot. Return the pork bones to the pot and add the measured water. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for at least 45 minutes.
You’re free to skip this step and use store-bought stock. This recipe uses about 5 quarts.
Tomatoes and Tofu
In addition to crab and noodles, bun rieu almost always has a mixture of other ingredients. Here’s how to quickly prepare authentic-tasting tomatoes and tofu.
One quick note: in a traditional recipe, annatto seeds are used to give the soup its red color. We’re using ketchup here in order to save time and make the soup easier to make. If you can use annatto seeds, use those instead: simply cook them in the oil until it turns red, remove the seeds, and then proceed with the instructions as written.
1 lb tofu, fried
5 tomatoes, cut into small wedges
1/3 cup shrimp paste
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp shallot, minced (onion works in a pinch)
1 tbsp garlic, minced
Add shallot (or onions), garlic, and oil to a large saucepan. Saute over medium heat until the ingredients are fragrant, about two minutes.
Add tofu and tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, still over medium heat.
Mix the shrimp paste with a small amount of stock or water until it’s fairly runny. Add it to your pot along with ketchup and stir everything together.
Once everything is well blended, add this mixture to your stock.
Bun rieu isn’t known as “Vietnamese crab soup” for nothing. The most distinctive part of bun rieu is this delicious crab, egg, and spice mixture. You’ll need some authentic Vietnamese “minced crab in spices,” or “gia vi nau bun rieu”. You should be able to find this in most grocery stores, even normal American supermarkets.
1 cup dried shrimp (soak in water before using for at least 20 minutes then drain and rinse with cold water)
1 14-oz can of Vietnamese minced crab in spices (gia vi nau bun rieu)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp bouillon or stock powder
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp shallot (or onion), minced
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp msg
1/2 tsp pepper
First, blend or process your dried shrimp until it’s quite finely chopped. If you’re using a blender you may have to add a bit of additional liquid. Use the eggs for this purpose.
In the saucepan you used above, saute garlic and shallot (or onion) in oil until fragrant. Add the minced crab and saute for several minutes until you can smell the crab quite strongly. Turn the heat off and let everything cool so you don’t accidentally cook your eggs.
Once the pan is quite cool, add the shrimp, eggs, and other ingredients. Stir everything together.
Take your stock pot (full of stock) and turn the heat up. When it reaches a rolling boil, pour in the crab mixture. It should cook quickly and rise to the top. Turn the heat down and simmer for 45 more minutes while you cook your noodles.
Vegetables, and Condiments
Traditional Vietnamese presentation involves a plate full of bean sprouts, limes, green onions, herbs (including mint and coriander), and other fresh veggies. You and your guests can add these to the soup to your heart’s content. If possible, try to assemble a plate full of as many of these things as possible. At the very least, sprouts and limes should be quite easy to find.
Prepare a 2 lb package of medium rice noodles according to the package instructions. Drain, rinse, and wait patiently until your soup finishes. One thing to note: your noodles may cool before your soup has finished simmering. If you think they’re too cold, consider heating them up briefly in the microwave. I generally find that cold noodles and hot soup go quite well together and make it easier for me to enjoy the dish without burning my mouth.
Putting It All Together
Once your final simmer has finished, you’re nearly ready to serve! Simply add noodles to your serving bowls and then ladle in the soup. Put your favorite veggies on top and enjoy your delicious bun rieu. As you ladle your soup out, look for any pork bones still in the pot and discard them.
Bun rieu is named after the way the crab and egg mix floats around the soup. Rieu is a word that means sea foam, which sits on top of the water the same way the crab sits on top of this soup. It’s a very poetic name for a tasty dish.
This “cheating” recipe is quite good at approximating an authentic taste without needing too many exotic ingredients. Annato seeds are definitely the most important thing you’re missing, but you probably won’t taste a difference. The ketchup in this recipe does a good enough job of making everything nice and red.
If you have more time, consider looking up a traditional Vietnamese soup recipe and making a more authentic stock. You’ll need more stock bones, some spices, and a lot more time, but you’ll come out with an incredibly rich broth that will make your soup really shine. Even if you make the pork stock for this soup yourself, you’ll definitely notice a difference between this and the incredibly decadent broth you’ll get at pho shops.
As far as garnishes and vegetables go, one tasty ingredient is water spinach. The stems of this plant are crunchy and make a nice addition to this soup (or just about any soup, for that matter). Personally, I prefer to use bean sprouts due to how easy they are to find, clean, and prepare, but there’s something to be said for variety.
It’s worth noting that more traditional Vietnamese preparations of this dish will have a number of other exotic ingredients. This includes tamarind paste, rice vinegar, and sometimes pig’s blood. If you have access to these ingredients, consider adding them! While it’s a bit more work to get these unusual items you’ll get a slightly different sour taste to your soup.
To be clear, however, this preparation is very normal for Vietnamese-Americans. While you might see the above ingredients in Vietnam, you’ll hardly ever find them in the home kitchens of Vietnamese-Americans. This means that you can still claim that the above recipe is totally authentic!
While authentic Vietnamese bun rieu is quite difficult to make, this easy “cheating” version uses easy-to-find ingredients and takes only a couple hours to prepare. As long as you can pick up a jar of minced crab, some pork bones, and rice noodles, you’ll almost certainly be able to find everything else you need to make this delicious crab noodle soup. You’ll impress all of your guests, both Vietnamese and otherwise, with the unique combination of flavors and textures you find in bun rieu. Make sure to stock up on plenty of bean sprouts and Vietnamese herbs so your dinner guests can garnish their soup to their heart’s content.