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Bun Bo Hue

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Just came home from one of my favorite places, Pho So 1 in Van Next to the Ranch 99 Market. I almost always have Pho Tai, which is my very favorite thing in the whole world, but I was reading about Vietnamese cuisine, and so I decided to order something different. I had an order of Bun Bo Hue, which is spicy noodle soup in the syle of the city Hue.

The biggest difference between my dish and my dining partner's bowl of Pho was the oilyness of the broth. A red sheen of oil floated on top, not unlike a good porky bowl of posole. The oil coated the spoon, and the broth was spicy and rich and good! I'd read several descriptions of this dish that said it is typically served with a variety of meats and proteins, including beef, pork, "spam" or pork loaf chunks, a pig's knuckle, and cubes of congealed pigs blood.

At Pho So 1, mine came with a pig's knuckle, 3-4 big chunky shreds of well-cooked fatty beef, and 3-4 thick slices of what looked like roast pork loin. No congealed pigs blood. No "spam" or pork loaf.

The noodles were thicker and softer than the noodles for Pho; more like well-cooked spaghetti. They were easier to spoon up than Pho noodles. The dish was garnished with a big handful of chopped green onions, and there were bits of red pepper and sliced white onions in the broth. I had a dish of garnishes including a lemon wedge, jalapeno slices, bean sprouts, and mint. Only mint, no other herbs.

I found it delicious, but I was full far sooner than I'd have been eating the same amount of Pho. The richness of the broth, the soft noodles - you didn't have to work as hard to fill yourself up!

The meats were a little disapointing - the pork slices were good but kind of dry, even though they were in the broth. I couldn't get much from the beef - I am not really good with chunks of fat, and I hate having a big chunk of meat in my mouth that's hard to chew. And I didn't do anything with the pig's knuckle.

What is the trick, anyway, for dealing with these large fatty chunks? I know people must love it - I see everyone eating them, and tripe, too for that matter. Maybe if the pieces were smaller I would get the attraction, but I feel like I'm going to choke or swallow it whole if I can't chew it.

Do people eat or gnaw on the pig's knuckle, or is that just there to flavor the broth?

Also - I was curious about the pig's blood cubes and there was nothing like that in my bowl. Do you have to ask? Do they serve it at Pho So 1 normally? Were the kitchen staff and wait staff customizing the dish for a non-Vietnamese person?

Anyway - I loved the soup and noodles, and I'm glad I tried it. I'm ready to branch out and try some other soups on the menu, even though my heart sill belongs to Pho Tai.

Any suggestions of what to try next?

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  1. In my experience, people always gnaw on the pig knuckle. I've had it with and without pork loaf. The dish traditionally should come with congealed blood, but I think since in Van Nuys they cater to a non-Vietnamese crowd, they have probably done away with that part of the dish without many complaints. As a native, I never even touch the stuff myself. The meats should play a huge role in your enjoyment of the dish. The meat should be fatty, tender, and juicy; however, fat should not dominate the cut. It sounds like they did a decent rendition of the dish if not superior. When Quan Hy in Little Saigon (Garden Grove/Westminster) is on point, they make a bangin' bowl of Bun Bo Hue. Too bad they are a bit inconsistent these days. Even Quan Hy omits the congealed blood although their clientele is predominantly Vietnamese. I actually prefer the way my relatives make it.

    Incidentally, Bun Bo Hue comes from Central Vietnam, whose cuisine is distinctly different from that of North or South Vietnam, pho tai coming from the North. The food from Central Vietnam, which is where the kings of Vietnam resided, ups the level of complexity relative to its sister cuisines IMO because they were designed to please royal palates. That's the theory anyway. Personally, I believe that a superior bowl of Bun Bo Hue outdoes a superior bowl of pho. Trouble is, it's so hard to find the former.

    Kudos to you for stepping out of your Viet comfort zone. Where Vietnamese noodle soups are concerned, there's also Hu Tieu, Bun Rieu, Banh Xep Nuoc, Banh Canh, Bun Thang. Those are all a bit esoteric but enjoyable nevertheless.

    3 Replies
    1. re: hch_nguyen

      Thanks for the reply. I really did like the soup a lot. I will save your recommendations for the next time!

      Is the pigs blood something that people buy in a market like Ranch 99, already prepared, or is it something people in the kitchen prepare from the cuts of pork?

      Do people just pick up the knuckle in their hand and gnaw on it? What do they eat off it? Mine just looked like it had skin and cartilege on it, no meat.

      Also, about the meat - I don't think I'd mind the fatty cuts all that much - the taste of the parts I got was divine! My only problem is that they are so big they fill my mouth and I can't chew them. It would be OK if I could cut them but of course, there are no knives - I tried to tease the pieces apart with my chopsticks and my spoon, but that didn't work too well.

      But I will definately try Bun Bo Hue again at other places!

      1. re: gsw

        I've never known anyone to make the pork congealed blood themselves, although I suppose you could. Since most restaurants don't slaughter the pigs themselves and, therefore, don't have access to large quantities of the blood, it's likely that they have a supplier for it. It is possible that they have a supplier for the raw blood and then prepare it from there. My mom always bought congealed blood prepared, unless she was preparing the fresh duck and liver in congealed blood dish that repulses me even today as I think about it. She slaughtered the ducks herself in that case. 99 Ranch might carry the pork congealed blood, but they are a Chinese market, although, admittedly, there is a lot crossover. Almost any market catering to Vietnamese will carry it. They will carry the blood raw as well as congealed and prepared. Your best bet will be Chinatown (which is mostly Vietnamese now anyway) or Little Saigon in OC.

        As for the knuckle, you answered your own question. When they gnaw on the knuckle, they are gobbling up flavorful bits of skin and cartilage (and probably some meat). Most people are not shy about just picking it up and going right for it, as much for the flavor as for the texture. The knuckle, like the other meaty parts, is also there to flavor the soup. It sounds like they were probably a little sloppy with their meat cuts, hence the size problem. Even then, it should've been tender enough to where you could've easily bitten chewable pieces off. That's how I think I should be done anyway.


        1. re: gsw

          People generally buy the pig's blood already congealed. Dealing with liquid blood is too messy. I've seen them in Vietnamese markets and occasionally at some Chinese ones (e.g. 99 Ranch).

      2. My wife, who is Vietnamese, always prefers a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue over a bowl of Pho. She thinks Pho can be a little boring compared to the vibrant flavors of Bun Bo Hue.

        She really likes the Bun Bo Hue at Quan Hop and Brodard in OC. When we don't want to drive, we often go to Saigon Flavor in SGV. The people are nice there, parking is easy and the food is good.

        Hue-style cuisine is really interesting. If you ever have a chance to eat at a restaurant that serves Imperial Cuisine, that is a real treat. We often eat at a place called Hoi An in Saigon. Their Christmas Dinner was quite an experience.

        5 Replies
        1. re: bsquared2

          I've never been to Quan Hop, but I hear it is run by the same people who run Quan Hy, so their versions of Bun Bo Hue are probably similar if not identical. The only thing I've ever had at Brodard that I enjoyed was their Nem Cuon. Their bun cha Hanoi was really scary, so I've been shy about trying anything else. I'll have to give their Bun Bo Hue a whirl, however.

          1. re: hch_nguyen

            Brodard has (had?) wonderful banh xeo.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              You're right about that, Das Ubergeek. Brodard is known in Little Saigon for their banh xeo also, but I've never been a fan of that dish for some reason, so I never tried it. Never liked it as a kid. Just a preference thing. It's not bad. I just prefer to save my stomach for something like the Nem Cuon, which really hits the spot.

              1. re: hch_nguyen

                Everytime i go to Brodard, I can't order anything else but their Bun Bo Hue and nem nuong pork rolls. haven't had banh xeo but my gf talks about it all the time.... it's like a taco?

                I also love Quan Hy's bun bo hue. so good.

                1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

                  Banh Xeo is more of a Vietnamese crepe to my mind. It's a wrapping (sort of crepe-ish, sort of pancake-ish) stuffed with meats, mostly ground pork and shrimp, and veggies, mostly bean sprouts, and sometimes mung bean and it's all topped with nuoc cham (or nuoc mam). It's a contrast of flavors, textures, and temperatures: hot and cold, sweet and savory and spicy, chewy and soft, raw and cooked etc....sounds great but somehow I have never cared for it, but I might be letting childhood prejudices get in the way.


                  Quan Hy can make a mean bowl of Bun Bo Hue, but they're so inconsistent these days. I had a streak of poor renditions of it there, so I stopped ordering it and went with banh beo every time and they have never disappointed. If I could have their banh beo and Brodard's nem nuong rolls under one roof, I would be very, very happy!

        2. I have been getting Bun Bo Hue at Pho So 1 in Van Nuys for about 2 years now. Most Pho places in the Valley do not have it on their menu. At first I had to ask for the blood cubes, but they know me now and I never have to ask. I am just an old (70) Anglo guy, but I love the stuff. Many times I have had Vietnamese folks come up to me smiling and saying how great it is that I like this dish. I do not do it to impress, I really think it is great. I also get Pho, but Bun Bo Hue is clearly my favorite.

          1. I prefer Pho over Bun Bo Hue, primarily due to the texture of the bun (vermicelli) and my inability to really pick it up with chopsticks. I don't mind the pork blood so much, but the broth is definitely a lot oilier in Bun Bo Hue. The only time I've ever had it that I've liked it is at Ngoc Hue in Garden Grove.

              1. I got the Bun Bo Hue once at Pho So 1 but I didn't really care for it - I found it unpleasantly oily and, like the original poster, I couldn't quite figure out how to deal with the pork knuckle but that was less of an issue than the oiliness of the soup. I ordered it after I saw someone at another table eating it. I don't think I could handle congealed pork blood, but when I get pho there I get #5 which includes tendon and tripe along with rare beef and brisket. Actually I think the rare beef is my least favorite meat in the pho, I like the brisket a lot and it tends to be fatty.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Debbie W

                  Bun Bo Hue is one of those things you should eat at a specialty place. For example, when you want pho, you go to a pho place. They may sell other things, but pho is their specialty. For Bun Bo Hue, you should go to a Bun Bo Hue place or at least one specializing in food from the region of Hue. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is a rule in general. For Vietnamese, eating Bun Bo Hue at a pho place is akin to eating dim sum at a Szechuan place. It doesn't feel right and it's likely to color (inaccurately) your perception of the dish. Pho and Bun Bo Hue come from vastly different cultural regions in Vietnam.

                  I don't like the rare beef that much either. If I do get it I always order "tai rieng", which means they put it raw on the side in a dish and then I dip and cook it in the steaming hot bowl of pho myself. This way I can control the wellness of it, which makes a world of difference. It's usually not on the menu like that, but any pho place worth its salt will accommodate without any fuss.

                  1. re: hch_nguyen

                    Sounds good. The very first time I ordered it was at Ngoc Hue, so you figure that know a thing or two about Imperial cuisine.

                    1. re: SauceSupreme

                      I have heard that the Bun Bo Hue at Ngoc Hue is good and have been meaning to try it. However, do not be fooled. The "Hue" in "Ngoc Hue" has nothing to do with the region of Hue in Vietnam. They are spelled differently in Vietnamese. With their appropriate Vietnamese diacritic marks, the two words are spelled respectively Huế and Ngọc Huệ. It's not a case of tomay-to and tomah-to. They're two different words and two different sounds with two different meanings, but a non-native would never privy to this.

                      So, if you're looking for restaurants that specialize in the cuisine of this region, do beware.

                        1. re: SauceSupreme

                          They're tonal marks... so just remember that the city has a circumflex (^, which isn't actually a tonal mark, just differentiates from a regular "e") and an acute accent (/)... it's as much a part of the spelling as the letter itself, so you can know what to look for.

                          That's not to say that anyplace with "Huế" in the name actually serves Huế-style cuisine, but you knew that anyway. :)

                    2. re: hch_nguyen

                      Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead specializes in cuisine from Hue, but they are known primarily for their Nem Nuong, although my wife tells me that their Bun Bo Hue is pretty good.

                  2. My first choice for Bun Bo Hue is at Pho Cong Ly on Westminster, just west of Brookhurst. Nice beefy broth, lots of heat, and the pork hock is tender enough to bite into. I really clean these things out to the bare bones.

                    Second choice is Bun Bo Hue So 1 on Brookhurst, south of Bolsa.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Tkn

                      I totally agree with you Tkn. Pho Cong Ly (the big sign says Saigon Deli) is our favorite as well, and a close 2nd place is Bun Bo Hue So 1, next to Pho 54 at Brookhurst/McFadden.

                    2. If you get a chance to venture out to Westminster, there is a great little shop whose specialty is Bun Bo Hue complete with pig's blood. Called Ngu Binh on Magnolia and Westminster Blvd, this place is always crowded with people waiting to eat this. I personally have gone 3 weekends in a row!

                      Short Review and pics:


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: arisu

                        My girlfriend, who is Vietnamese, is a Bun Bo Hue fanatic and her favorite is served at Bun Bo Hue So 1 in Westminster. Over the weekend, I took her to a couple of highly recommended places from this board, Pho Cong Ly Saigon Deli and Quan Hop, to see how they match up with her favorite. She was impressed with the flavorful broth and meats from Quan Hop, but disappointed that they only offer one version of it compared to almost a dozen versions from Bun Bo Hue So 1. They also provided the correct garnishes - shredded banana plant leaves, bean sprouts, and mint. Pho Cong Ly Saigon Deli was a different story with the broth and meats being less flavorful and offering no shredded banana plant leaves, but cabbage instead, which is a no-no according to my girlfriend. Overall, she still rates Bun Bo Hue So 1 as her favorite with Quan Hop as her second favorite place.

                        1. re: SoCal Foodie

                          I prefer the piping-hot bowls, runny-nose-spicy broth, sweat-pouring-down-your-head sauna-like experience you get at Pho Cong Ly. I go through a big pile of napkins everytime I eat there! The more civilized Bun Bo Hue So 1 is great too and they do have a variety of meats that you can choose from but I always end up getting the house special. As far as the cabbage vs. banana blossoms is concerned, both are acceptable depending on what's available. Neither is more exotic/authentic than the other. Come to think of it, sometimes there are both on the plate!