This recipe for Homemade Vietnamese Beef Balls (Bo Vien) yields a springy, bouncy beef meatball that pairs deliciously in pho noodle soup.
What are Vietnamese beef balls?
Vietnamese beef balls (bò viên) consist of ground beef and seasonings that have been churned into a paste, and formed into round balls, similar to fish balls.
They are most commonly served in Vietnamese beef pho noodle soup.
The hallmark of a good Vietnamese beef meatball is its elastic, bouncy texture with a "snap" when you first bite into it.
Commercially, borax is used in meatballs to give it that bouncy, rubbery, crunchy texture.
Beef balls originated from the Teochow Chinese people, and are commonly served at dim sum along with dishes such as Siu Mai and Rice Noodle Rolls.
Are they the same as regular meatballs?
No, Italian-style meatballs are not typically beaten into a paste and are bound with egg and breadcrumbs.
The texture of Italian meatballs is moist, tender and light compared to Vietnamese bo vien beef meatballs.
Are they the same as banh mi meatballs?
No, banh mi meatballs (xiu mai) are made with pork and simmered in a tomato sauce, which is different than Cantonese-style Siu Mai.
Why you'll love this recipe
This recipe uses regular ground beef, which you can find easily at supermarkets.
Partially freezing the beef for 2 hours keeps the meat cold while it is mechanically beaten.
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to beat the meat into a paste is the key to achieving that optimal spongy, bouncy, rubbery texture.
These Vietnamese pho beef meatballs have no MSG, preservatives or fillers such as wheat gluten.
The beef balls have such a delicious, rich flavor and are truly addictive.
The best thing? It's so much more economical to make your own beef balls at home, compared to buying prepackaged ones at the local market.
Equipment you'll need
- stand mixer with paddle attachment/flat beater: you can also use a food processor if you don't have a stand mixer
- large pot: for boiling the beef balls
- spatula: for scraping down the meat mixture
- small ice cream scoop: for forming the beef balls, optional
Ingredients you'll need
- ground beef: you can use lean or regular ground beef; partially frozen -- I just popped the package into the freezer for 2 hours
- ALSA baking powder: single action baking powder that is activated when added to liquid ingredients; different than double-acting baking powder which is activated first by liquid, and then by heat
- fish sauce: is a savoury condiment used in Vietnamese cuisine; adds a salty flavour to the beef balls; use a high quality fish sauce for the best flavour
- potato starch: acts as a binding agent; you can use tapioca starch as an alternative
- toasted sesame oil: adds aroma and flavour to the beef balls
- sea salt: enforces that salty, savoury flavour
- granulated sugar: balances out the flavour
- garlic powder: adds garlic flavour to the beef balls
- onion powder: adds a touch of onion flavour, optional
- white pepper: or you can use black pepper
- sand ginger powder: also known as 沙姜粉 which is part of the galangal family, also known as "greater galangal"; it's different than regular ginger powder. You can use regular ginger powder or galangal powder as a substitute or omit if you don't have it.
- ice cubes
- spring/green onion: cut into long pieces
- ginger: smashed
How to make them
Add the partially frozen beef into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment/flat beater (Step 1 below).
Turn the mixer on low and let the meat start to break up.
In a separate bowl, combine the seasonings/marinade: ALSA baking powder, fish sauce, potato starch, sesame oil, sea salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, sand ginger powder and water and give it a stir (Step 2 below).
Next, add the seasonings into the beef and continue to mix for another 2-3 minutes (Step 3 below).
Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until long strands start to form, another 3-4 minutes.
Note: the meat will work up the sides of the bowl -- stop and scrape the mixture periodically.
Continue to beat and increase to high speed, until the meat becomes a stiff paste, is light pink and when scraped with a spatula, has an elastic "bounce" to it. (When you gently slap the meat with a spatula, it bounces back and doesn't thud) (Step 4 below).
Fill a large pot of water and add ice cubes, green onion/scallions and smashed ginger.
Use an ice cream scoop to form the beef balls (or take a small portion of the mixture and use your hands to form a ball by squeezing the meat in your fist through the index finger, middle finger and thumb).
Lightly wet your hands to smoothly form the beef ball and place directly into the ice water (Step 5 below).
Continue with the remainder of the meat mixture.
How to cook
Transfer the pot with the beef balls over to the stove and bring it up to a rolling boil.
Cook the beef balls for 8-10 minutes, until they float are fully cooked (Step 6 above).
Skim off any scum that floats to the surface (Step 7 above).
Drain the beef balls into a colander and rinse them under cold water (Step 8 above).
Transfer the beef balls to an ice bath and let them cool completely (Step 9 above).
Once cool, remove the beef balls and pat dry with paper towel.
At this point, they're ready to serve, or freeze for later.
How to serve
Serve the Beef Balls with noodles in a Vietnamese phở bo vien, which is just beef ball noodle soup, or serve it in phở tai bo vien, which is beef noodle soup with rare beef slices.
Or enjoy them on them own as an appetizer with some sriracha chili sauce or hoisin sauce.
You can slice the beef balls to use them in place of sausage.
Add them into Chinese hotpot, or other noodle soups.
Enjoy them with some banh mi baguette for a quick snack.
How to freeze & reheat
Vietnamese Beef Balls freeze very well.
Place the beef balls into a freezer-safe bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.
To reheat, cook the beef balls from frozen in boiling water, soup or broth until heated through.
Expert tips & tricks
To get a smooth rounded ball, wet your hands with ice water and roll until smooth and no protein fibers stick up.
It's totally OK if your beef ball isn't completely smooth.
I found that using a small ice cream scoop can help with making the beef balls appear smoother.
You can use different kinds of meat such as tendon, shank or chuck for more flavour to the beef balls.
For a large batch, you can double the recipe -- but be sure to watch the sides of the mixing bowl when working with a larger volume of meat.
How to know when the meat mixture is ready?
When the meatball mixture is ready, it should appear like a pale light pink paste, and when you scrape it, it should hold some elasticity.
It should look very smooth, almost like pate/liver spread.
How can I make them more juicier?
You can add some additional beef fat (tallow), pork fat (lard), vegetable oil or use or a 60-40 ratio of meat to fat to the meat mixture.
Other recipes you may like
You may also like these recipes:
Vietnamese Beef Pho (Instant Pot)
Instant Pot Vietnamese Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)
Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup - Instant Pot)
Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Spring Rolls (Bun Cha Gio)
Cha Gio (Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls with Taro)
Let me know if you try out this recipe -- tag me on Instagram @siftandsimmer or leave me a comment/rating below!
Bo Vien (Vietnamese Beef Balls)
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
- 600 g (~1 ½ lbs) ground beef partially frozen (about 2 hours)
- 1 ½ teaspoon ALSA baking powder single-acting baking powder
- 5 tablespoon ice cold water
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoon potato starch
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper or black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sand ginger powder optional
- ice water
- 2 green onions cut into large pieces
- 1 inch piece ginger smashed
For key visual step-by-step photos, refer to the body of the blog post.
- Add the partially frozen beef into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment/flat beater.
- Turn the mixer on low and let the meat start to break up.
- In a separate bowl, combine the ALSA baking powder, fish sauce, potato starch, sesame oil, sea salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, sand ginger powder and water and give it a stir.
- Next, add the seasonings into the beef and continue to mix for another 2-3 minutes.
- Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until long strands start to form, another 3-4 minutes.
- Note: the meat will work up the sides of the bowl -- stop and scrape the mixture periodically.
- Continue to beat and increase to high speed, until the meat becomes a stiff paste, is light pink and when scraped with a spatula, has an elastic "bounce" to it. (When you gently slap the meat with a spatula, it bounces back and doesn't thud).
- Fill a large pot of water and add ice cubes, green onion/scallions and smashed ginger.
- Use an ice cream scoop to form the beef balls (or take a small portion of the mixture and use your hands to form a ball by squeezing the meat in your fist through the index finger, middle finger and thumb).
- Lightly wet your hands to smoothly form the beef ball and place directly into the ice water.
- Continue with the remainder of the meat mixture.
- Transfer the pot with the beef balls over to the stove and bring it up to a rolling boil.
- Cook the beef balls for 8-10 minutes, until they float are fully cooked.
- Skim off any scum that floats to the surface.
- Drain the beef balls into a colander and rinse them under cold water.
- Transfer the beef balls to an ice bath and let them cool completely.
- Once cool, remove the beef balls and pat dry with paper towel.
- At this point, they're ready to serve, or freeze for later.
The nutritional information provided should be considered as approximate and is not guaranteed. Please use your best judgment to ensure food is safely prepared and/or a good fit for your diet.
Recipe adapted from Diem Nauy.
Katherine | Love In My Oven
I could eat Vietnamese food every day!! These beef balls look terrific Michelle. Definitely my kind of dinner. And perfect for freezing later!
Raymund | angsarap.net
Ohhh thats how you make them bouncy! thanks for the tip. One of the best meatball texture I ever tried
David @ Spiced
Borax? Isn't that a household cleaner? Umph. I'd SO much rather make homemade versions of these beef balls! I've had pho noodle soup before, and I really enjoyed it. Now I should make a batch here at home!
Josiah - DIY Thrill
Vietnamese is my favorite!! I'll have to try these beef balls, thanks for sharing!
Tasia ~ two sugar bugs
I'm a bit baffled about Borax in commercial Bo Vien. Your homemade version looks much better!! I could eat Vietnamese food everyday, so I need to give them a try.
Sisley White - Sew White
I've only had these as Vietnamese restaurants and thought they must be so complicated to make but they really aren't. I've made two batches and I haven't shared either yet!
Wow, you're quick! Thanks for trying the recipe out, Sisley!
Love how versatile these are with being able to eat them plain or in pho. Yummy!
Yes, they are great as is, or in pho! Thanks Jess.
My husband loved these, beautifully flavored! Thank you for the recipe.
Glad to hear your husband enjoyed them, April!
Patricia @ Grab a Plate
I've never had these before! I'm glad for your explanation of the difference between Italian-style meatballs - very helpful to understand what these are like!
What a fun and unique recipe. I need more Vietnamese recipes and this one is going into the mix. Thanks for all the tips!
I was in search of vietnamese pho meatballs thati used to do but can't find that recipe anymore, so I decided to go with this recipe and I'm glad I did, it's excellent!, I'm pretty sure my friends will love it too. Thank you for the recipe and tips and your recipe will be keep in our family.
So awesome and perfectly flavored. I’ve never made any Vietnamese dishes before this one and I’m looking forward to trying more! I’m going to make pho tomorrow and these beef balls are going to be wonderful! Thanks!
Hi Venessa, thank you for taking the time to leave your feedback. Indeed, the beef balls will be such a delicious addition to your pho 🙂 Enjoy!
So glad that I found this Vietnamese beef balls recipe. They taste so delicious and most importantly, very similar to what we have at the Vietnamese restaurants. Thank you for sharing the recipe!
Thanks so much for giving my recipe a try, Noviera! Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for also sharing it on Instagram with me 🙂