Archive for the 'Bun Rieu' Category

Bún Riêu Cua – Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

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.

For broth

  • 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

To serve

  • 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.

Begin broth

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

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.

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

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.

Continue reading ‘Bún Riêu Cua – Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup’

Viễn Đông Restaurant – Garden Grove

Little Saigon, a sprawling suburban neighborhood in Orange County, is home to the largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. While I am familiar with Saigon’s culinary scene, when it comes to its American counterpart, I still have much to learn.

The city’s major arteries of Westminster, Brookhurst, and Bolsa are bustling with businesses hawking everything under the Vietnamese sun: from music to clothing to house wares and of course, food. What’s most notable about the Vietnamese food found in Little Saigon is the regional diversity. The distinct culinary styles of Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam are well-represented and executed as authentically as America allows.

Growing up an hour and a half south in San Diego, I used to travel to Little Saigon with my grandparents every couple of years to visit their friends who resided in the area. The highlight of these trips for me was the meals we shared at Viễn Đông restaurant. My grandparents always dined here for the Northern Vietnamese fare (mon bac)—specific regional specialties that aren’t in my family’s culinary repertoire.

A recent road trip to San Diego with The Astronomer provided the perfect excuse to revisit Viễn Đông.

Viễn Đông is housed in a clean, spacious, and impressively understated (by Vietnamese standards) space. The restaurant was fairly empty the late Friday afternoon we dined, which meant prompt and pleasant service from start to finish.

I ordered a bowl of bun rieu oc tom moc ($6.75), one of my family’s standbys at Viễn Đông. Even though I’ve been back in America for nearly a year, I still can’t get over how large the portions are at Vietnamese restaurants here. The enormous bowl of bun rieu was filled with hunks of fried tofu, ground crab, vermicelli noodles, meatballs, tomatoes, and periwinkle snails. The orange-tinged broth was hot and sour, just the way I like it.

The bun rieu was served with a plate of garnishes that included bean sprouts, shredded romaine lettuce, a wedge of lime, and mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste).

The Astronomer’s Cha Ca Thanh Long ($12.95) arrived on a sizzling platter that filled the air with the awesome scent of seared fresh dill. The generous fillet of turmeric-laced catfish was adorned with heaps of onions and scallions.

Everything about this dish was excellent, except that it wasn’t served Hanoi-style—in a pan atop a butane burner. The sizzling platter cooled down too fast, leaving the green and white onions mostly raw.

Accompanying the fish were warm vermicelli noodles, a mountain of fresh herbs, rice crackers, and toasted peanuts.

The perfect bowl of Cha Ca Thanh Long marries all of the ingredients together—a layer of noodles topped with chunks of fish, a smattering of peanuts, shattered rice crackers, an abundance of aromatics, and a drizzle of mam ruoc or nuoc cham.

Our Northern Vietnamese lunch at Viễn Đông left us stuffed to the gills and full of giddy memories from our travels.

Viễn Đông Restaurant
14271 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Phone: 714-531-8253

Phở Hoàng – Birmingham

Unbeknownst to me, my family in Birmingham, Alabama has been eating bun bo and pho several times per month for much of 2008. They haven’t been making it at home—despite the presence of Andrea Nguyen‘s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen on my mom’s bookshelves. In fact, nuoc mam made it’s first appearance in our household only last week. Rather, it turns out that a new Vietnamese restaurant recently opened near our church in Hoover. No doubt, Vietnamese food in Alabama is a big deal—for many years Pho Que Huong on Green Springs was the only option in Birmingham—so I was plenty excited when I found out about Pho Hoang. On my first weekend back in town, I joined my mom, dad, and brother for a meal at their new favorite dinner spot.

In addition to my curiosity about what exactly Vietnamese food would look like in Birmingham, I was looking forward to the chance to impress the owners by speaking a bit of Vietnamese. I was unprepared for the possibility that there might be only teenagers manning the dining room.

One of them approached our table, and I asked him if he spoke Vietnamese. He nodded, and I said “toi song o Viet Nam mot nam roi.” Dammit, I already forgot the tense/words my teacher taught me that would clarify that I lived in Vietnam for a year but am no longer there! He looked at me blankly for a minute and then seemed to understand. He mumbled something that I couldn’t make out. “Em noi sao?” “Uong gi.” “Ah, uong gi. Nuoc lanh thoi.” The whole exchange was pretty awkward—not nearly as cool as I had imagined. He was an American kid, clearly more comfortable speaking English than Vietnamese (especially when conversing with someone whose Viet pronunciation is mediocre at best), and it just didn’t feel right. I resigned myself to speaking English for the rest of the meal. At least I could say the names of the dishes right. Maybe if I ever meet a member of the older generation at the restaurant I’ll try again.

We proceeded to place our orders. The menu was heavy on noodles, as one might expect in a “Noodle House.” There were a smattering of other choices, including rice plates and hot pots, but overall it was less of an all-inclusive hodgepodge than I’ve witnessed at other Vietnamese restaurants in America. Apparently my family always starts off with the chicken wings. Maybe they’re not the most uniquely Vietnamese offering, but they did turn out to be tasty, and my mom and brother are obsessed. My family also loves the goi cuon, and I convinced them to order a plate of cha gio as well. It was funny having a waiter take our “appetizer” and “main course” orders separately.


The goi cuon (not pictured) looked and tasted reasonably authentic, although they were served with a strange sauce that was only a distant relative of hoisin. They didn’t quite live up to my family’s enthusiastic praise, but then again, I’m spoiled. The cha gio, on the other hand, looked nothing like what I’ve come to expect. Maybe it’s impossible to get the right kind of wrappers in Birmingham—whatever the explanation, I would have identified these as spring rolls from some Asian country, but certainly not Vietnam. It would have been okay if they tasted awesome, but they didn’t. Biggest disappointment of the night.

We all ordered noodles for our next course. My brother Dan got his standby, pho dac biet. Dac Biet—that’s my boy! I was surprised he liked the tripe and other interesting meat shapes and textures included in this preparation, but he has decided that it’s his favorite dish on the menu. It was an absolutely enormous bowl of pho. So much meat, and as many noodles as a bowl at the Muslim noodle shack in Kunming. Oh, America. At the end of the day, everyone except me took home leftovers.

Someone recommended the bun rieu cua to my mom on her last visit, and she was not disappointed. The broth was truly delicious—light and yet flavorful. She later commented that she could eat a similar dish three meals a day and never grow tired of it. I’m inclined to agree. It was a little different than the bun rieu I’ve had in Vietnam, but I think I actually liked it better than the other versions I’ve tried, Thanh Hai excepted.

My Dad wanted to try something new and settled on the mi xao don. The noodles were thinner than I’m used to, more like Chinese pan-fried noodles, and the ratio of seafood/meat to greens was quite skewed compared to what you’d find in Vietnam. It seems to be an ongoing theme that certain ingredients remain unobtainable in our great state of Alabama. They also threw in some baby corn—what is this, Chinese food? Authenticity aside, the dish was really quite tasty.

I didn’t feel like eating a hot soup, so I decided to try the bun thit xao. It was pretty solid, although I was disappointed that the dominant flavor turned out to be peanut rather than lemongrass. As with the other dishes, the portion size was large, as was the price ($6.99). But don’t get me wrong—by American standards, Pho Hoang is certainly a great deal for lunch or dinner. I’ve never been so stuffed after a single bowl of bun.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the meal. It wasn’t perfectly authentic or perfectly delicious, and the cha gio were sad, but for Birmingham, it was pretty damn good. The ambience was similar to what I’ve seen in California: strip mall location, sparsely decorated but clean interior, etc., but unfortunately there were a lot of empty tables when we visited. I sure hope they make it.

Pho Hoang Noodle House
2539 John Hawkins Parkway
Hoover, AL 35244
Phone: 205-560-0709

Pho Hoang on Urbanspoon

Hanoi Highlights II

Whereas our first couple of days in Hanoi were spent leisurely walking around town and eating in the Old Quarter, our final day in the capital city was crammed with a bevy of tourist activities. We started our day with a bowl of wonton noodles (mi hoang thanh) on Mai Hac De Street, which was touted by Rough Guide as having excellent local fare. The street had a handful of restaurants, but I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a culinary hot spot. In addition to wontons and noodles, the soup contained slices of barbecued pork, fried wonton skins, chives and a quarter of a hard boiled egg. Overall, a good soup, but it lacked the oomph of its southern counterpart. I say, more fish sauce and more black pepper.

Unsatisfied with our bland bowl of wontons, we headed a few doors down to a bun rieu establishment. Our zesty bowl of vermicelli noodles with tomatoes and crab was solid, and dare I say, nearly as good as Saigon’s beloved Thanh Hai. Fried tofu is the greatest flavor soaker there ever was.

After lunch, we hopped on our rented motorbike and went on a drive by greeting (similar to a drive by shooting, but more peaceful) to Uncle Ho’s mausoleum. One of these days I’m gonna wait in line and see Ho’s mummified body.

The Hanoi Opera House.

After site seeing on the motorbike for twenty minutes, The Astronomer and I were ready for a snack, so we stopped at a shack near the Opera House that sold ice cream and small bites. I ordered sweet sticky rice topped with French vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut (kem xoi). I give it three snaps in “Z” formation.

The always-savory Astronomer ordered a portion of nem ngot ran—slightly spicy meat that’s breaded and fried.

Properly fueled, we zoomed to check out the One Pillar Pagoda—Chùa Một Cột—an iconic Buddhist temple.

While in the neighborhood, we briefly considered going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Pros—air conditioning, cons—shame. The Astronomer was shaking in his boots posing outside the museum. After deliberating, we decided to put our dong to good use elsewhere.

Although the Ethnography Museum was not air conditioned, it was definitely an educationally stimulating and guilt-free way to spend the afternoon.

The multi-story museum contained all sorts of colorful and interactive displays featuring Vietnamese minorities. Exploring all of the exhibits got me really excited about heading to the mountainous town of Sapa. Plaid neon-colored do-rags are awesome.

We also saw a plethora of ancient carvings. One part Home Alone, one part The Thinker.

Outside the museum are a number of life-sized models of minority dwellings.

This one was our favorite.

Here’s another shot of the ancient Mccaulley Caulkin / Auguste Rodin hybrid.

After a couple hours in the museum, we headed back to the Old Quarter.

A trip to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without a water puppet performance.

A water fairy prancing about.

The cast and crew take their bows. Farewell, Hanoi!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...