Every summer when I was young, my mum would send me to Hanoi to stay with my grandma for a month. I remember reading lots of manga borrowed from my cousin, and playing card games with my childhood friend. It was simply too hot and humid to play outside for long. Every morning at 7, I would go and knock on my friend’s door hoping that she was up so that we could go down to the alley way to have breakfast. She was never up, opting to sleep in every single day. In my defence, the sun rises around at 5am in Summer so it was impossible for me to sleep in. After a lot of yelling and knocking she would finally wake and we would go down to get the last few bowls of bún on offer. The seller usually packed her stall around 8-8.30am. My friend would go for bún ốc (snail noodle soup) while I would always go with bún riêu cua (crab noodle soup) since I found (and still find) the former a tad sandy.
Bún riêu of my childhood is a simple affair and much different to its southern counterpart. It was made out of freshwater crab paste with lots of tomatoes and the secret ingredient of giấm bổng (a kind of vinegar) which gives the broth a subtle sourness. It was eaten with chopped salad leaves, purple perrila and the usual spring onion and coriander. Admittedly the seller (she also lived in the apartment block) was heavy handed with the MSG but I found this version the most wholesome of all. I tried another seller in Hanoi but the taste didn’t match and I was too snobby to ever eat it in Saigon being put off by the red colouring, fried tofu, and even pork blood cubes.
Even with the abundance of Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne, it was impossible to find a good bowl of bún riêu since we don’t have freshwater crabs here. I once bought a frozen bag from the grocery store but couldn’t make it coagulate to form the crab cake. The version listed here is what I make with the available ingredients to satisfy my craving but it’s nowhere near as good as what the real bowl of bun rieu was in my mind.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Q: Can chicken stock be substituted with beef/pork stock? Can I use stock from a can or stock cube?
A: I wouldn’t think so since we want a milk flavoured stock here. You can make the stock by boiling chicken cases with a knob of ginger, 1 tbsp of salt for about an hour.
Q: Can I use live crab instead of the one from the can?
A: You can add boiled live crab meat to the mixture but using it alone wont result in crab cake.
Q: Can I use a different brand of crab paste?
A: You could try but this one is my favourite.
Q: Can I not use mince pork?
A: Yes, in that case double the crab paste and make sure that the stock is not on high heat. Otherwise it will over boil and you won’t get any crab cake.
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Bun bo hue is my favourite childhood dish. I and the neighbour kids used to religiously go to this bun bo hue stall at the market every day during the summer holidays. A bowl set us back a mere 3000 dong back then. Last time I went home, the stall was still there but the food was disappointing. The bowl was small and there was hardly any meat. I guess I’m used to the big bowl we get in Australia. We also had Bun Bo Hue in Hue but were not impressed. It could have been a tourist trap restaurant but the bun bo was so different from what we had been accustomed to. The bun was thin, there wasn’t any sliced meat, only big chunk of pork hogs which I’m not a big fan of.
Having said that, a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue is harder to come across in Melbourne than Pho. Our top choices would be Co Do and Ninh Kieu in Richmond, and Dong Ba in Footscray. While the bowl at Dong Ba is slightly too oily for my taste, Ninh Kieu offers the deepest, most flavourful version of all.
True that it uses mainly beef stock but what sets it apart from its more famous cousin Pho is the liberal use of lemongrass, the spiciness of sate and the deep flavour of Hue shrimp paste. Making Bun Bo Hue does require a fair amount of ingredients and some plan-aheads. I attempted to make this dish a few times before but was too lazy so some steps were skipped and the stock never came out as good as at the shop.
Ingredients: (yields about 9 bowls)
1/2 kg of beef bones
1 kg of beef shin
1 large pork hock
4 stalks of lemongrass
1 knob of ginger
Mam ruoc Hue (Hue shrimp paste)
Rice noodles (Bun Bo Hue type which is round and a bit bigger than the normal bun)
Lettuce (could be cos lettuce, shredded water spinach, shredded banana blossom)
1 stalk of lemongrass
3 cloves of garlic
dried + fresh chilli
annatto seed or powder
Mix 2 table spoons of mam ruoc with 1 cup of water. Use a glass or small container. Cover and let it sit overnight.
Parboil the bones, beef shin and pork hock for 5 mins. Discard the water and wash the meat and bones thoroughly.
Chargrill onion and ginger until brown. Peel the onion.
Bruise the lemongrass.
Add the meats, bones, onion, ginger, lemongrass, clear part of the mam ruoc to a large stock pot and add about 5 litres of cold water.
Add 2 tbpspn of salt
Bring to the boil and start skimming the scum.
Lower to simmer.
After an hour, remove the pork hock and submerge in a bowl of cold water.
After another half an hour remove the beef shin and submerge in water. Continue to simmer the stock for another hour or two.
Chop lemongrass, shallot, garlic and chilli.
In a small saucepan, add 2 tbsp of veg oil. When the oil is hot, add the lemongrass and stir for 2 mins.
Add shallot and garlic and stir for another 2 mins
Add chilli and quickly stir for another 30 sec and add it to the stock
Slice the pork and beef thinly.
Cook the noodle and run it through cold water to prevent further cooking.
In a bowl, add the noodle, some meat, garnish and ladle the stock.
What could go wrong?
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OK, here it is, I wouldn’t call it a recipe because it is so vague, I don’t really have any measurements, just a bunch of instructions with whatever quantity of ingredients you actually have. Anyway, the list of ingredients you should have include:
OK, that is your list of ingredients, what to do with them? You just have to heat up the stock, boil the egg noodles (nice and chewy is preferable), most of the cooking is with the wontons I guess. Put your pork mince in a bowl, take your egg (don’t know really, half an egg for about 150-200g of pork I reckon) and beat it a bit, and then throw it in with the mince and stir around a bit. If you have corn flour just put a bit on the prawns, then cut them (depending on the size into four parts if they’re small) and toss them in with the mince.
Chop your spring onions, coriander, and chilli nice and fine to garnish your noodle soup with. Chop your shallot finely, I like to chop it in half vertically, and then slice it into smaller bits then. Heat up a pan (the smaller the better) with your canola oil, once hot, throw the sliced shallot in, and once they start to brown, turn the heat off, and let them cook in the heat of the pan, they should be brown and crispy at the end.
Mix that around a bit, and then add a bit of salt and pepper, and stir it around evenly, add some soy sauce, you be the judge of how much you want, but don’t put much in, they really don’t need it, you can put salt in the water later to give the wontons a bit more saltiness if necessary. To make your wontons, take a wonton skin, place it on your bench, use a teaspoon to scoop up some mince making sure to get at least one piece of prawn in there and put in the centre of the skin. Folding/wrapping the wonton is a pretty simple task, my technique is just to fold the square in half (into a triangle shape), and then bring each corner toward the central corner and press down a bit to seal the wonton, it doesn’t have to be super tight.
Throw a batch of wontons (about six (6) is a good number for one bowl) into the boiling water (turn this down to medium heat at this point), and then let the wontons cook, use a thingie to stir them to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. If you find that the wontons aren’t salty enough you can add some salt to this water. I usually just watch the clock, five minutes at medium heat is a good amount of time to cook, but basically when the wontons float to the top of the water, they are done.
Put your egg noodles into your bowl, splash on a bit of oyster sauce (how much depends on how salty your stock is and how much flavour/msg you like), I prefer putting the spring onions and coriander and chilli in before pouring the stock over the top, but this is not particularly important. I do like to put the fried shallots in after the stock because it means they stay crispy a bit longer. Put the wontons on top of the noodles (and add the char siu if you have it), and pour the boiling stock over the top, mix it around so that the oyster sauce is mixed in and flavoured. That’s it, you’ve got some yummy wonton noodle soup, I hope! Look at those yummy, fragrant fried shallots on top, yummy!
Update: Here’s a picture of the same wontons fried (pretty shallow), not particularly pretty, but they were pretty yummy too, with soy sauce, or if you have that sweet and sour sauce or similar, that’d be good too.
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