Posts Tagged: vietnamese

Bún riêu

Bún Riêu

Bún Riêu

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)

  • 1 can of crab paste
  • 200 gr of minced pork
  • 1 egg
  • 2L of chicken stock
  • 4 tomatoes
  • some fried tofu or fish tofu (optional)
  • 1 package of dry bún (rice vermicelli)
  • To garnish
  • spring onion
  • coriander
  • chilli
  • cos lettuce, perilla leaves



  1. Combine the crab paste, mince pork and egg in a bowl. Add half a teaspoon of salt.
  2. Slice tomatoes into wedges and lightly stir fry until they soften but not mushed.
  3. Bring the chicken stock to a light simmer, use a table spoon to scoop the crab mixture and drop it in the stock.
  4. When crab balls start to float, add the stir fry tomatoes and tofu. You could also add some anatto oil if you want more red colour.
  5. Cook the dry bún as per instruction on the packet.
  6. Wash and slice the lettuce, perilla leaves, spring onion, coriander, and chilli
  7. Assemble the bowl with noodles, top with the salad and ladle over the soup. Add fish sauce to taste and enjoy!



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.


Bún bò Huế

Bún bò Huế

The finished product

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)

  • For the stock:

1/2 kg of beef bones
1 kg of beef shin
1 large pork hock
4 stalks of lemongrass
1 onion
1 knob of ginger
Mam ruoc Hue (Hue shrimp paste)

  • Garnishing

Rice noodles (Bun Bo Hue type which is round and a bit bigger than the normal bun)
Spring onion
Lettuce (could be cos lettuce, shredded water spinach, shredded banana blossom)
Vietnamese mint

  • Sate ( you could buy this in a jar from vietnamese grocery)

1 stalk of lemongrass
2 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
dried + fresh chilli
annatto seed or powder



Chilli Saté

Chilli Saté

Shrimp Paste

Shrimp Paste


  • The stock

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.

  • Sate

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

  • Assemble

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?

  • I was lazy so the first few times, I only prepared the mam a few hours prior to cooking and there wasn’t enough time which made it impossible to separate the clear part from the mam.
  • The meats do need to cool down completely before slicing. I made the mistake of slicing it right after taking out of the stock and they ended up falling apart instead.
  • If you follow the recipe, the stock is only slightly seasoned. You will need to add more fish sauce later to taste.
  • Southerners usually add a small piece of rock sugar to the stock but I didn’t think it’s needed.


Cơm cháy (Homemade rice cracker)

Com chay started to become popular around the time i was in grade 10. I remembered stopping by this little shop on the way to school everyday to buy a bag for about 3000 dong. They were then shared among gfs who could never resist the crunchiness, slightly saltiness of the crackers. To us, these crackers are our version of potato chips.

Once I moved to Australia, I could never find these snacks anywhere and making it seemed out of the question. Actually I saw them sold at Nhu Lan bakery in Footscray a few months back and was jumping with joy. I bought a bag for around 3$ and it tasted disgusting. The crackers were stale and tasted nothing like the ones at home. Luckily my mum came to visit from Vietnam and always brought a few packets for me. It took me a few days to polish off the whole lot and still craving for more.

Since I was on maternity leave and bored out of my mind, I decided to give it a try and see if I could make it myself. The result was much better than expect. The flavour is right, the crackers are crunchy. They did become a bit stale after a couple of days. I reckon it was because they were not completely fried. In the center, there are still some rice that didnt expand. I shall make the cake thinner or fry them for longer in lower heat next time.

Ingredients (yields about 1 tray of rice crackers):

  • 2 cups of glutinous rice (can use other types of white rice, probably not basmati)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce (I use 3 crabs)
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 1 tsp of chilli powder
  • pork floss (optional)
  • Vegetable oil


  1.  Cook the rice in the rice cooker. If you use normal rice, use equal amount of water and rice. I use glutinous rice so I only add just enough water to cover the rice.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients (except the oil of course) to make the sauce.
  3. Once the rice is cooked, mix the sauce in with the rice and stir to coat evenly.
  4. Line a baking tray with foil or baking paper, spread he rice evenly on the tray. Press down to form a giant rice sheet about 0.5 cm thick.
  5. Cut the big rice sheet into roughly 5×5 pieces.
  6. Leave in the oven to dry at 130 deg. After an hour, the top should be dry but the bottom will still be wet.
  7. Prepare another piece of baking paper, transfer the rice crackers and turn them upside down. Put them back in the oven for another hour.
  8. Use a small saucepan and pour in about 2-3 cm of oil. Once the oil heat up (bubbles form around the chopsticks)
  9. Fry each of the rice crackers until the colour turns a light golden. This is very similar to frying prawn crackers though the rice crackers won’t expand as much. I recommend frying one at a time to avoid burning.
  10. Put them on some paper towel to absorb excess oil. You can add pork floss at this stage.
  11. Once completely cool, store in zip lock bags.
Rice crackers

Rice crackers

What could go wrong:

  1. Rice grains flake off why frying: Make sure you press the rice sheet firmly when the rice is still hot. This will make sure the rice crackers keep their form after drying.
  2. Center of the rice crackers get soggy, too chewy after storing for a while: This could be because the rice crackers were not cooked thoroughly. Your rice crackers might be too thick or the oil temperature too high so the rice crackers turn golden but the inside has not expanded.
  3. The seasoning can be adjusted to be sweeter/saltier/spicier depending on your taste.




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