This recipe for Bun Bo Hue is my streamlined shrimp-free version, made in an Instant Pot. It features a beef and pork bone soup flavoured with lots of lemongrass, thick rice noodles, and a Vietnamese sate chili oil.
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What is bun bo hue?
Bun Bo Hue is a spicy Vietnamese soup noodle dish from the central Hue region of Vietnam.
The dish traditionally consists of thick rice noodles in an aromatic, savoury lemongrass beef and pork bone soup, with sliced beef shank, oxtail, pork knuckles, fermented shrimp paste, and congealed pig blood.
Is bun bo hue spicy?
This base broth is actually not spicy -- it's more of a savoury lemongrass soup.
The red layer on the top of the broth comes from the annatto seed oil which also does not have any spice/heat to it.
However, the soup can be customized with the amount of Vietnamese sate chili oil that you can add into your bowl.
So no and yes -- Bun Bo Hue may look intimidatingly spicy with its red hued soup broth, but you can change the level of spice by adding or omitting the sate chili oil.
Is it the same as pho?
It's different than pho in that pho broth is flavoured with different aromatics/spices, such as charred onion, ginger and toasted star anise.
Pho also uses flat rice noodles whereas Bun Bo Hue uses round rice noodles, similar to a texture of spaghetti.
It's also different than Taiwanese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, which uses wheat noodles and a different broth base.
Why this recipe works
Making Bun Bo Hue in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker cuts down the overall cooking time, which can typically take anywhere from 3-4 hours to overnight.
If you have a shell-fish or shrimp allergy, this recipe is perfect for you since I've omitted the shrimp paste which is traditionally used in this dish.
It's a flavourful noodle soup dish that comes together in 2 hours.
Using annatto seed powder easily colours the Bun Bo Hue broth a vibrant red/orange colour.
You can prepare the annatto seed oil and sate chili oil ahead of time.
Ingredients you'll need
You can get these ingredients in Asian supermarkets.
There are 3 main components in the Bun Bo Hue broth:
- lemongrass/beef bone soup (base broth): the foundation of Bun Bo Hue, where the pork and beef bones and meat are cooked over a period of time
- annatto seed oil: a bright red/orange coloured oil that is poured into the lemongrass base soup broth and gives it that vibrant hue
- Vietnamese sate (sa-te) chili oil: not to be confused with "satay," this is a Vietnamese-style chili oil infused with aromatics such as lemongrass, shallots, and garlic
For the lemongrass base broth
- beef/pork bones: marrow, knuckle, oxtail or any combination will work
- boneless beef shank: is the leg portion, very sinewy and tough; requires a long period of cooking to make it tender; I use this cut in Chinese Green Onion Pancake Beef Rolls
- lemongrass: is a long light green/yellowish stalk with a fragrance similar to lemons; it's the base flavour of Bun Bo Hue; cut the lemongrass in half and then use the back of a knife to bruise it (releases its flavour/aroma)
- onion: halved, adds a little sweetness
- salt: adds a savoury flavour to the soup
- sugar: balances out the saltiness; I used coconut sugar but you can use granulated sugar
- fish sauce: is a condiment made from salted anchovies and adds a salty umami flavour to the broth, commonly used in Vietnamese cooking
- beef broth: adds additional flavour to the broth
Annatto seed oil
- annatto powder: is ground up annatto seed -- it releases a bright red/orange/yellow hue and colours the Bun Bo Hue; if you can't find annatto powder, you can use annatto seed and fry the seeds in oil first, before discarding the annatto seed
- oil: for frying the annatto powder/seed
- shallot: minced, adds flavour and aroma to the oil
- garlic: minced, also more flavour to the oil
- lemongrass: minced
Vietnamese sate chili oil
- oil: for the chili oil; you can use any high smoke point oil such as canola, grapeseed or peanut oil
- Thai chilies: fresh chilies add spice and heat to the chili oil
- shallot: minced
- garlic: minced
- lemongrass: minced
- fish sauce
- salt: I prefer using sea salt or kosher salt
- chili powder: you can use any chili powder that you like; keep in mind that different chili powders have different levels of heat/spice
- paprika: adds flavour and a vibrant red hue to the chili oil
- thick rice noodles: the noodles for Bun Bo Hue are a thick, round rice noodle, with a texture similar to spaghetti rather than the flat rice noodle used in pho; they do take a while to cook through (minimum 20 minutes)
- cha lua (Vietnamese ham): sliced; a cylindrical steamed pork patty that is commonly found in Vietnamese dishes, such as Cold Cut Banh Mi
- congealed pork blood: is traditionally served in Bun Bo Hue and has the texture of a silken tofu; you can find it in Asian supermarkets; you will need to cut it up and cook it prior to serving
- banana blossom: thinly sliced and soaked in acidified water (to prevent oxidization); you can substitute with sliced red cabbage
- bean sprouts: you can serve them lightly blanched or raw
- Thai chili: optional, for extra heat and spice
- lime: or lemon, adds a little hit of citrus to balance the savoury flavour
If you can't find round rice noodles, you can use spaghetti pasta or a flat rice noodle (used in pho).
It can be difficult to find banana blossom, so you can substitute with sliced red cabbage.
You can omit the pork blood if you're not a fan of it.
Traditionally, fermented shrimp paste is added to the lemongrass broth. I've omitted it, but if you don't have a shellfish allergy, you can add it in.
If you can't find annatto seed/powder, you can substitute paprika and turmeric in its place. Note that the colour and flavour will not be the same.
Feel free to add cilantro, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), perilla leaf, and/or sliced red onions as garnish.
How to make it in an Instant Pot
Make the lemongrass base broth
Rinse and clean the beef/pork bones.
Place the bones into a large pot and cover with water.
Bring the bones up to a vigorous boil for 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the scum off the bones under running water.
Add the par-boiled bones to the Instant Pot liner.
Next, add in the beef shank, bruised lemongrass stalks, onion, salt, sugar, fish sauce and beef broth.
Top with enough water to cover the bones and meat.
Place the lid on, set the vent to SEAL, and use the MEAT function: 50 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE.
Do a quick release and open the lid.
Remove the bones, aromatics (lemongrass, onion) and beef shank.
Remove the meat from the bones, discard lemongrass and onion.
Strain the soup broth through a sieve into a large pot to remove any impurities.
Keep the broth warm.
Make the annatto seed oil
In a small sauce pan or frying pan, heat up 3 tablespoon oil over medium heat.
Add in minced shallot, garlic, lemongrass and sauté for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add in 1 tablespoon annatto powder and continue to sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Stir all of the annatto seed oil into the lemongrass base broth.
Make the Vietnamese sate chili oil
In a small sauce pan, add in oil and heat over medium heat.
Add in Thai chilies, minced shallot, garlic, lemongrass and sauté for 2 minutes.
Next, add in chili powder, paprika, fish sauce, salt and sugar.
Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and transfer to a clean glass jar.
Store at room temperature.
How to assemble
Cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions (the thicker round rice noodles will take at least 20 minutes).
Drain and rinse the noodles under cold running water.
Portion the noodles into each bowl.
Garnish with sliced banana blossoms, bean sprouts, mint, basil, and a squeeze of lime.
Add Vietnamese sate chili oil to your taste and enjoy immediately.
Tips & tricks
If you prefer a finer lemongrass texture (in the Annatto Seed oil/Sate Chili oil), use a small food processor to chop it up.
To make lighter work, make the Annatto Seed Oil and the Vietnamese Sate Chili Oil ahead of time.
And to even make this more streamlined, chop up the lemongrass, shallot and garlic for the Vietnamese Sate Chili Oil first and save some for the Annatto Seed Oil.
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Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup - Instant Pot)
- Instant Pot (pressure cooker)
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
Lemongrass Base Soup Broth
- 2 lbs beef bones
- 2 lbs pork bones
- 3 lbs boneless beef shank
- 8 stalks lemongrass halved and bruised
- 1 large onion halved
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tablespoon coconut sugar or granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 4 C beef broth
- enough water to cover the meat and bones
Annatto Seed Oil
- 1 tablespoon annatto powder
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon shallot minced
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- 2 tablespoon lemongrass minced
Vietnamese Sate Chili Oil
- ⅓ C high smoke-point oil canola, grapeseed or peanut
- 5 fresh Thai chilies chopped
- 1 medium shallot minced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 2 stalks lemongrass minced
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 pkg dried round rice noodles cooked, drained & rinsed
- 1 pkg cha lua (Vietnamese ham) sliced
- beef shank (from the lemongrass soup) sliced
- pork blood optional, cooked + cubed
- 1 banana blossom sliced + soaked in water & lemon juice
- 1 pkg bean sprouts lightly blanched
- Thai chilies or jalapeno optional
- 1 lime cut into wedges
Make the lemongrass base broth:
- Rinse and clean the beef/pork bones.
- Place the bones into a large pot and cover with water.
- Bring the bones up to a vigorous boil for 5 minutes.
- Drain and rinse the scum off the bones under running water.
- Add the par-boiled bones to the Instant Pot liner.
- Next, add in the beef shank, bruised lemongrass stalks, onion, salt, sugar, fish sauce and chicken broth.
- Top with enough water to cover the bones and meat.
- Place the lid on, set the vent to SEAL, and use the MEAT function: 50 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE.
- Do a quick release and open the lid.
- Remove the bones, aromatics (lemongrass, onion) and beef shank.
- Remove the meat from the bones, discard lemongrass and onion.
- Strain the soup broth through a sieve into a large pot to remove any impurities.
- Keep the broth warm.
Make the annatto seed oil:
- In a small sauce pan or frying pan, heat up 3 tablespoon oil over medium heat.
- Add in minced shallot, garlic, lemongrass and sauté for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Add in 1 tablespoon annatto powder and continue to sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir all of the annatto seed oil into the lemongrass base broth.
Make the Vietnamese sate chili oil:
- In a small sauce pan, add in oil and heat over medium heat.
- Add in Thai chilies, minced shallot, garlic, lemongrass and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Next, add in chili powder, paprika, fish sauce, salt and sugar.
- Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a clean glass jar.
- Store at room temperature.
- Cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions (the thicker round rice noodles will take at least 20 minutes).
- Drain and rinse the noodles under cold running water.
- Portion the noodles into each bowl.
- Add cha lua (Vietnamese ham), sliced beef shank, cubed pork blood (if using) and ladle the hot soup over top.
- Garnish with sliced banana blossoms, bean sprouts, mint, basil, and a squeeze of lime.
- Add Vietnamese sate chili oil to your taste and enjoy immediately.
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.