I made my very first Vietnamese noodle soup (without grandma looking over my shoulder) on the eve before New Year’s eve. The Astronomer’s mother adores bún riêu, a northern specialty featuring thin rice noodles, a tangy broth, stewed tomatoes, and crab clusters, so I decided to prepare it for the Chaplin clan while visiting Birmingham.
Since this was a spur-of-the-moment idea, The Astronomer and I had to source all of the ingredients locally. Fortunately, a well-stocked Vietnamese grocery store nearby carried everything that we needed, from vermicelli noodles to fermented shrimp paste. Alabama, you surprise me all the time!
This recipe, which comes from my Aunt Tina, calls for canned “minced crab in spices” and employs a tamarind powder to achieve the soup’s characteristic sour notes. My dear Vietnamese-Canadian friend Nina prepares an interestingly similar version of the dish.
I imagine that these sort of semi-homemade recipes were developed within the Vietnamese community living outside Vietnam during a time when fresh crabs and tamarind weren’t readily accessible or were perhaps too pricy to afford. These recipes continue to persevere even with the availability of fresh ingredients because they’re not only convenient but are legitimately delicious.
I was so damn stoked with my first pot of bún riêu that I went ahead and made another vat yesterday at home in Pasadena. My resolution for 2012 is to stop being such a wuss when it comes to preparing Vietnamese foods at home. So far, so good.
- 1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced lengthwise (white part only)
- 6 medium tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed
- 10 cups water, pork stock, or chicken stock
- 1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1.5 teaspoons fine shrimp sauce (mam tom)
- 1.5 tablespoons tamarind soup mix
For rieu (crab mixture)
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 5.6 ounce cans “minced crab in spices” (gia vi nau bun rieu)
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped (green part only)
- 3.5 ounces dried shrimp
- 4 eggs, beaten
- Vermicelli rice noodles, cooked according to instructions on package
- Romaine or iceberg lettuce, shredded
- Fine shrimp sauce (mam tom)
- Lime wedges
An hour prior to preparing the soup, soak the dried shrimp in cold water. Drain the shrimp and set aside.
In a large stock pot over medium heat, add the oil along with the white parts of the scallions. Saute the scallions for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and saute for an additional 2 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to sweat.
Add the stock or water into the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Season the broth with fish sauce, shrimp sauce, and tamarind soup mix. Adjust the seasonings based on whether you want it saltier (more fish sauce), sourer (more tamarind), or funkier (more shrimp sauce). Let the broth simmer on medium-low heat while preparing the crab mixture. Be careful not to let the broth boil or the tomatoes will turn to mush.