What is life without amazing noodle soups? And if you’re talking about amazing, bun rieu is up there with the greats. 

In terms of Vietnamese noodle soups, Bun rieu is not as well known as pho or bun bo hue, but it’s a hidden gem maybe only you’ll know about among your friends: a time tested combination of al dente rice noodles, flavorful seafood and tomato soup, and intensely delicious and really pretty toppings. Think of it like a Vietnamese bouillabaisse.

bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com

The depth of flavor and complexity you get from a few simple ingredients just can’t be beat. It’s a little tart from the roma tomatoes, a little sweet from the pineapples, and so full of umami from the pork, shrimp, and crab. This one is one of my favorites.

What is bun rieu

Bun rieu (properly: bún riêu) is a Vietnamese vermicelli noodle soup featuring tomatoes and seafood – usually crab. The rieu in bun rieu means sea foam, and if made correctly, there is a crab meatball mixture that is supposed to look like seafoam and adds a punchy hit of umami to every bite. Like with most Vietnamese noodle soups, it’s finished with a variety of meats and herbs and it’s like a tiny, really delicious universe in a bowl.

bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com

Why this bun rieu recipe

I was looking around on the internet and only found recipes that needed esoteric ingredients you’re not likely to find outside of a specialty Vietnamese supermarket, or super simplified ones featuring premade boxed soup mix combined with chicken stock and not much else.

This version is a totally-from-scratch ode to bun rieu that’s not “seasoning packets” easy, but not so hard that it requires crushing crabs in a mortar and pestle. It’s kind of a middle ground: a little effortful, very rewarding, and authentic, but not painful. I hope you give it a try.

bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to make bun rieu

  1. Make the soup. Blanch your bones, then transfer to clean, clear water with aromatics and simmer for 4 hours.
  2. Blanch the shrimp and pork shoulder. Drop the shrimp and pork into the simmering soup. The shrimp should take about 10 minutes to start floating. Once they do, remove and shock them in an ice bath, then peel. Add the shells back to the stock and store the shrimp in the fridge. The pork takes 30 minutes to come to an internal temp of 135ºF. Once done, remove and refrigerate as well.
  3. Make the crab meatballs. Crush shallots, garlic, and sugar in a mortar and pestle, then add fish sauce. Finely chop raw shrimp in food processor, then add an egg, the shallot mix you made earlier, and drained crab meat and pulse to mix. Refrigerate.
  4. Prepare the vermicelli and toppings. Cook and drain the vermicelli. Chop your herbs and slice the pork loaf and shoulder. Add the tofu puffs to the soup for 3-5 minutes to soften, then remove.
  5. Cook the crab meatballs. Bring the soup back up to a boil, then drop small patties of the crab into the soup and let them cook for 5 minutes. It should look foamy-ish.
  6. Assemble. Add the dried vermicelli to the bowl. Add toppings, then cover with soup and serve immediately. Enjoy!

bun rieu soup seasoned | www.iamafoodblog.com

The best bun rieu is overnight bun rieu

Most of this recipe is passive time that you could spend making the rest of the components, but I think you should split this into a two day affair instead.

Make the soup, shrimp, pork shoulder, and crab mixture on day 1, and then reheat, assemble, and enjoy on day 2. This allows you to relax, enjoy the process, and allows the crab meatballs and pork shoulder time to firm up. It’s just easier and way more fun.

Where to buy pork bones

In this recipe you make a scratch pork and shrimp stock. If you’re feeling lazy and want something right now, you can use store bought stock and add shrimp shells, or forgo the shrimp entirely. But if you have the time, it’s about the same difficulty, and you’ll feel proud that you made this whole thing out of not much more than water and bones. It’ll taste 100x better, too.

On the subject of bones, pork bones can be hard to find at your average supermarket. My usual strategy is butchershop first, then the Mexican or Asian supermarkets. As a last resort ask the meat dept of a large grocery store (such as whole foods), they can order it in for you if they don’t already have it in the back. While this recipe calls for pork neck bones, any pork bones will work, ideally bones with a little meat still on them. In a pinch you can use pork ribs or shank, which should be available everywhere.

pork neck bones | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to blanch pork bones

You need to blanch pork bones if you want a clean, clear soup. My favorite way to blanch is:

  1. Put all your bones into a pot that’s just slightly larger, then fill up with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, fill your main stock pot with the correct amount of water and bring that to a boil on your back burner.
  3. By the time the pork is done blanching – approx 20 mins if you do it straight from the fridge and with cold water – the main soup will be already boiling and no time is lost. Then you just transfer the bones over with tongs, drain the smaller pot, and throw it in the dishwasher – super easy.

blanching pork | www.iamafoodblog.com

Pork shoulder

You’ll usually find this served in Vietnamese restaurants with sliced pork hock. I personally don’t really like working with pork hock and find it very finicky. I love eating it though, so instead of omitting it, I’ve switched it out for sliced pork shoulder. Cooked the way it says in the recipe (including the overnight rest), this pork shoulder will taste just like pork hock without the pain. If you’re more masochistic (and authentic) than me, you can replace the pork shoulder with pork hock or skin-on pork leg. You’ll notice the pork is stopped at 135ºF. It’ll look a little pink when you slice it but it’ll finish another 10 degrees higher when you add it back to the boiling hot soup.

pork shoulder | www.iamafoodblog.com

Vermicelli

I’ve tried this with lots of different sized noodles and prefer a thicker vermicelli for this dish. The ones we use for bun bo hue are perfect. But you can use any size you like. In a pinch, you can even use spaghetti. To cook noodles Vietnamese style: cook to package directions, then drain and rinse under cold water. Allow to dry for 5-10 mins before assembling your bowls. This way, when you add your soup, the noodles absorb a bit of the soupy flavor as they rehydrate.

noodles for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com

Shrimp paste

Like with ketchup and everything else in life, there is shrimp paste and there is shrimp paste. Most likely, you won’t be able to find any locally and will need to resort to ordering it online, but if you live near a Vietnamese supermarket, you might be able to find the authentic stuff: mam ruoc hue.

hue shrimp paste | www.iamafoodblog.com

It’s a shrimp paste made from tiny shrimp caught during the winter in the area my parents grew up in, and they’ve regaled me with stories of how happy their little town was when the big shrimp boats came in. I’ve tried the various Chinese/Thai/Indonesian/etc shrimp pastes and I’ve tried this stuff, and this is what I’ve come to prefer. It doesn’t smell great, but it’s out of this world good.

Fish sauce

Look for first press fish sauce (mắm nhĩ) such as Red Boat if you can. It will cost a little more but tastes far better. Avoid fish sauce that is opaque and has the word fermented on the label (mắm nêm) as it’s crazy pungent.

Fried pork loaf

If you live near a well stocked Asian or Vietnamese supermarket, be sure to pick up a package of fried pork loaf (chả chiên). It’s an optional but highly recommended topping.

fried Vietnamese pork loaf aka cha chien | www.iamafoodblog.com

Shrimp

I bought individually frozen easy peel shrimp. The heads were already removed and the shrimps were cleaned with an easy cut on the shell. Peeling these were a breeze and you should definitely check them out.

shrimp in an icebath | www.iamafoodblog.com

Crab

Authentically this dish requires pounding crab in a mortar and pestle. In this version, I used a combo of canned crab (salad crab) and raw shrimp and it tasted great. You could go the distance and buy tiny raw crabs, but you’re already making soup from scratch. I feel the crab is very forgiving in comparison to everything else.

Tofu puffs

Tofu puffs are delicious little nuggets of deep fried tofu. You should be able to find them wherever you find tofu. If you can’t, just use any fried tofu or omit entirely.

tofu puffs | www.iamafoodblog.com

How big of a pot do you need for bun rieu?

This recipe, as written, is very large. There is a lot of time invested, so why not make a few extra bowls? Unfortunately, you’ll need a very large pot to hold everything if you do. To make this recipe I used an 8qt stockpot as my main pot.

If you don’t have a large pot, you’ll need to scale this down to the size of the pot you have, plus a little extra for the bones . I base it on 2 cups per bowl, aka 2 servings per quart. So, eg, if you have a 2.5qt pot, you should scale this down to 4 bowls.

Noodle bowls for bun rieu

On the subject of bowls, you need proper bowls for any noodle soup. You’re looking for a bowl at least roughly 3” high and 9” wide. Plan ahead so you don’t find yourself eating tiny portions or eating out of mixing bowls. We’ve never regretted our noodle bowl investments, they’ve made eating everything from homemade soups to takeout ramen delightfully easy and fun.

Before serving, warm your bowls with hot tap water to keep the soup hotter, longer.

noodle bowls | www.iamafoodblog.com

Chopsticks

If you’ve ever thought it was really hard to pick up noodles, you probably don’t have bad chopstick skills but instead, probably have the wrong chopsticks. There are specific chopsticks for each kind of food, and the ones we use for noodles have a rough finish at the tips so the noodles don’t slide. At the very least, use cheap wooden takeout chopsticks over smooth plastic chopsticks, your hands (and shirt) will thank you.

bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com

Authenticity

Many Vietnamese people will read this recipe and say that it’s not authentic. It’s true, unlike my other recipes, this bun rieu is not all that authentic, technique-wise. It’s meant to be easy and fun and doable with ingredients you can find at a western supermarket – but it tastes almost identical to the real thing. It’s a little bit of a moot point anyway as it’s a hotly debated recipe in Vietnamese circles. Some claim it’s from the North, with no pork, and others claim it’s central with pork, but with pork leg, not pork shoulder, or dried shrimp, not fresh shrimp. It doesn’t matter, this will taste right.

This is a really good and easy soup to make, and an easy gateway into homemade Vietnamese noodle soups. I hope you give it a try!

-Mike

bun rieu recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Bun Rieu

A delicious seafood and tomato soup featuring crab foam and delicious pretty toppings.
Serves 8
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours

Ingredients

Soup

  • 16 cups water
  • 2.5 lbs pork neck bones
  • 1 can pineapple slices in juice (13oz or 20oz)
  • 4 roma tomatoes quartered
  • 1 onion halved
  • 1 lb pork shoulder/butt
  • 8 large shrimp about 1/2" - go for 16 if you like shrimp
  • 2 tbsp sugar or to taste
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
  • 1 tbsp shrimp paste

Crab Meatballs

  • 1 can crab salad crab, 120g/4oz
  • 3 large shrimp peeled, raw
  • 1 egg
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce

Assembly

  • 28 oz vermicelli 3.5oz per bowl, look for bun bo hue vermicelli
  • 1 lime cut into wedges
  • 1 package tofu puffs optional but highly recommended
  • 1 package fried vietnamese pork loaf cha chien, optional but highly recommended
  • 1 bunch Thai basil optional but highly recommended
  • 1 bunch cilantro optional
  • 1 bunch green onions sliced, optional
  • 1 bag bean sprouts washed, optional
  • 8 Thai chilies optional

Special Equipment

Instructions

Soup

  • Blanch the pork bones in a small pot while you bring a larger pot of water with the onion, pineapples, and tomatoes to a boil, then back to a simmer. When the pork bones have boiled for 5 minutes, transfer the pork over to the larger and discard the blanching water.
    blanching pork | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • When the soup has stabilized to a simmer (about 1 bubble every 30 seconds), blanch the shrimp and pork shoulder and prepare an ice bath. When the shrimp start to float (about 10 min), transfer them to the ice bath, then peel and refrigerate. Add the shells back to the soup. When the pork hits 135ºF internally (about 30 min) remove and refrigerate.
    shrimp in an icebath | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Continue to simmer the soup for 4 hours slightly covered on low while you make the crab meatballs. Check back every hour or so and replenish the water as needed.
    simmering bun rieu soup | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • When the soup is done simmering, strain into a smaller pot or remove as many solids as you can with a spider. Season with shrimp paste, sugar, and fish sauce, a tablespoon at a time and tasting as you go. The dark red color happens after the fish sauce and shrimp paste are added, so don't worry if your soup is clearer at the end of your simmer. The soup should be on the very verge of being overseasoned. The noodles and lime will balance it out.
    bun rieu soup seasoned | www.iamafoodblog.com

Crab Meatballs

  • In a mortar and pestle, crush shallot, garlic, and sugar until it becomes a fine paste, then stir in the fish sauce and set aside.
    garlic shallot seasoning mixture | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • In a food processor (or by hand chopping) pulse the shrimp until it becomes a rough paste. Add drained crab and the shallot mixture and continuing pulsing until an evenly mixed paste is formed. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
    crab mixture for bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com

Assembly

  • Give yourself about 30 minutes to assemble the soup. The vermicelli takes about 15 minutes to cook to al dente so do that first. Taste one before draining in a colander, then rinse under cold water and set aside to dry.
    noodles for bun bo hue | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • While the vermicelli is cooking, bring the soup up to a rolling boil and, using two spoons, spoon little crab meatballs into the soup. When the meatballs look cooked through, reduce the heat to a very low simmer.
    crab meatballs for bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add tofu puffs to the soup. Slice your pork shoulder and, if using, pork loaf. Warm them in the soup. Let simmer while you prepare your bowls.
    bun rieu soup | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Heat up your bowls and prepare your vegetable toppings.
    vietnamese herbs and beansprouts | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Assemble the bowls by adding noodles first, then pork, shrimp, and tofu puffs. Ladle the soup on top, ensuring every bowl gets an even amount of tomatoes and crab.
    bun rieu | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Enjoy immediately, with toppings.
    bun rieu recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Bun Rieu
Amount Per Serving
Calories 746 Calories from Fat 406
% Daily Value*
Fat 45.1g69%
Saturated Fat 6.8g43%
Cholesterol 299mg100%
Sodium 1760mg77%
Potassium 579mg17%
Carbohydrates 91.1g30%
Fiber 1.9g8%
Sugar 11.1g12%
Protein 53.8g108%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Comments

  1. Sabrina says:

    5 stars
    wow! I’ve never seen so many mouthwatering proteins in a soup – even the tofu looks good – ha ha, thank you, just over the top in the best way!

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