Hue is a city in central Vietnam and the former Imperial capital
Bun bo Hue is the "greatest soup in the world," according to Anthony Bourdain
Some of Hue's tastiest bites are served at one of the countless plastic-stool street restaurants
Should you find yourself in Hue in central Vietnam, it’d be a shame not to venture into the stalls of Dong Ba Market for a bowl of bún bò Huế, the city’s legendary – and remarkably complex – pork and beef bone soup.
Should you find yourself outside of Hue but in an experimental state of mind, it’d be a shame not to try making the lip-tingling soup at home.
Bún Bò Huế
(Makes 6 quarts)
Excerpted from “Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart” by Pauline Nguyen; Recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen.
¼ cup shrimp paste
2 cups hot water
4 ½ pounds pork leg meat, skin on
4 ½ pounds shin beef
2 cups Asian fish sauce
3 white onions, sliced into rings
4 cloves garlic, bruised
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick, lightly pounded
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
¼ cup kosher salt
4 ½ pounds oxtail
2 lemongrass stems, bruised
1 bunch scallions, white stems lightly crushed, green part finely sliced
2 small bunches Vietnamese mint
2 tablespoons sugar
2 lemons, quartered
1 pound bean sprouts
1 pound thick rice vermicelli, cooked as per packer instructions
Shrimp paste and chili sauce (recipe below), for serving
Dissolve the shrimp paste in the hot water and leave to steep for 2 hours. Strain the liquid and reserve, discarding the sediment. Marinate the pork leg and shin beef in 1 cup of the fish sauce for one hour.
Stir-fry 2 of the sliced onions and the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the oil until soft and translucent. Wrap in a piece of cheesecloth along with the cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, and set aside. Add 12 quarts of water to a very large saucepan or stockpot with the remaining fish sauce, kosher salt and oxtail, and bring to a boil. Skim the impurities from the stock as they rise to the surface. Once boiled, decrease the heat to a simmer, and skim constantly for 30 minutes.
Put the shin beef, pork leg, lemongrass, the white part of the scallions, half the Vietnamese mint and the cheesecloth bag in the sauce pan and return to a boil. Decrease the heat to a slow simmer and continue to cook for 1½ hours, skimming regularly. Carefully remove all of the meat from the stock and set aside.
Add the shrimp paste liquid and sugar and continue to cook at a slow simmer for 1 hour, or until reduced by half. Strain the soup through a fine sieve layered with cheesecloth into another saucepan and allow to cool. The broth can be stored for 3 days in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 3 months.
To serve the bún bò Huế, allow 1⅔ cups of stock per person and bring the amount of stock to a boil. Slice the shin beef and pork leg into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Place a handful of vermicelli noodles into individual serving bowls and layer 3 slices of beef, 3 slices of pork and 1 oxtail in each bowl over the noodles. Put 2 teaspoons of the shrimp paste and chili sauce on top of the meats and top with the boiling stock. Garnish each bowl with some onion rings and slices from the green part of the scallions. Serve with lemon wedges, Vietnamese mint and bean sprouts on the side, plus fresh sliced chile, pure fish sauce and extra shrimp paste and chili sauce for dipping.
Shrimp Paste and Chili Sauce
(Makes 1 cup)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup ground garlic
2 lemongrass stems, finely chopped
¼ cup chili flakes
½ cup chili oil
2 tablespoons shrimp paste
Place a saucepan over medium heat, pour in the vegetable oil and fry the garlic until light brown. Remove the garlic from the oil and set aside. Add the lemongrass and chili flakes to the oil and fry for 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chili oil to stop the cooking process. Add the fried garlic back to the oil along with the shrimp paste and mix well to combine.