Imperial Spicy Pork and Beef Soup, with Shrimp Dumplings and Shaved Banana Blossoms

Bún Bò Huế


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    bowls as a one-dish meal

Appears in

Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore

Southeast Asian Flavors

By Robert Danhi

Published 2008

  • About

After tasting this soup from Huế central Vietnam, you will begin to wonder why beef, pork and shrimp are not combined more often. Pork and beef bones, lemongrass, and chilies make a spicy broth. The addition of Vietnamese shrimp paste (mắm ruốc or mắm tôm) adds a depth of flavor that only fermented seafood can bring. Meaty pork bones work well in this broth, but fresh pigs feet create the best body. For the same reason, try to use beef shinbones. Marrow bones will make broth lacking in body, but they will definitely make up for it with a rich flavor. The soup’s color has more bark than bite, since annatto seeds, not the chilies, are responsible for the red look of the broth.

To accompany this dish, the Vietnamese table salad includes shaved cabbage or lettuce, banana blossoms, crisp bean sprouts, piles of mint, and limes to brighten its flavor. Add small amounts of these to your soup as you continue your journey to the bottom of the bowl.

When you are in the mood for a đặc biệt (extra special) bowl of noodles, take the time to also prepare shrimp dumplings. These hearty seafood dumplings really add an authentic element not often found outside of Vietnam. Seafood dumplings are available at Asian markets, for those looking to save time on this recipe.


Beef, Pork and Shrimp Broth

  • 3 lb./(1.4 kg.) Pork bones, about 2 to 3-inch (5 to 7.5 cm.) pieces (split fresh pig’s feet if possible]
  • 2 lb. (.9 kg.) Beef bones, about 2 to 3-inch (5 cm. to 7.5 cm) pieces (shin, marrow or knuckle bones)
  • lb. (700 g.) Pork hock, sliced, about ½ inch (1.3 cm.) thick (butcher will do this for you)
  • 1 tbsp. Annatto seeds
  • 1 lb. (454 g.) Beef brisket or chuck, cut into pieces about 2 inches wide, 2 inches thick by 4 inches long (5 cm. wide, 5 cm. thick by 10 cm. long)
  • 2 medium Yellow onions, cut in quarters
  • 6 cloves Garlic, smashed
  • 5 stalks Lemongrass, trim tip and root, cut the rest of stalk into 4-inch (10 cm.) lengths and bruise slightly
  • 1 tsp. Black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1-2 tbsp. Vietnamese style shrimp paste (start with one and see if you can handle two, it is pungent really bolsters the overall flavor)
  • 2 tbsp. Fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • 1-inch (2.5 cm.) piece Rock sugar, about 1 oz. (28 gm.)


  1. Blanch the Bones: In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, cover beef bones, pork bones and pork hock with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Drain; discard liquid, rinse bones, and wash out the pot to remove residual impurities.
  2. Infuse oil with orange color: In the same stockpot, over medium-low heat, cook oil and annatto seeds, until they begin to sizzle (less than 1 minute). Remove from heat and set aside to rest for 10 minutes as the annatto color infuses into the oil. Strain or scoop out annatto seeds; discard them.
  3. Add blanched bones, beef, onions, garlic, lemongrass and salt to the annatto oil. Add fresh water to cover by 1 inch (2.5 cm.). Over high heat, bring to a gentle boil, lower heat, and simmer for 1½ hours. Remove beef and pork hock to separate containers; check them for doneness (this meat will be later sliced to garnish the soup). They should be tender. If not, continue to simmer until tender. When beef is ready, plunge into ice-water for 15 minutes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap (to avoid dry skin forming), reserve in refrigerator for later use. Place pork in covered container to add to soup again later.
  4. Simmer broth 1½ to 2 hours more, adding water as needed to keep the bones barely covered. Skim fat and impurities from surface as they collect.
  5. Strain broth through very fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth-lined sieve). Add shrimp paste, salt, fish sauce and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. It should be salty, then slightly sweet with an aromatic background.

Assembly of Noodle Bowls

  1. Bring seasoned broth up to a near boil. Taste; adjust spiciness as needed. Add pork hocks, shrimp balls, and 1½ inch (3.8 cm.) scallion pieces to cook them; bring back to a bare simmer.
  2. Get noodle station set-up: Arrange 6 bowls, sliced cooked beef, sliced onions, and sawleaf herb on your work surface. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil. Dip in cooked noodles to reheat;drain immediately, divide into bowls.
  3. Distribute sliced beef, shaved onions, and sawleaf herb atop the noodles. Spoon a teaspoon of chili sauce on noodles. Add the pork hocks, cooked green onions, and shrimp balls from the broth. Ladle about 1½ to 2 cups of broth into each bowl (it should be piping hot). Serve with table salad, shrimp sauce and extra chili sauce.