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.
Make rieu (crab mixture)
Pulverize the dried shrimp using a food processor. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the oil along with the minced garlic. Saute the garlic until lightly golden and fragrant, approximately 2 minutes. Add the contents of the two cans of “minced crab in spices” to the garlic along with the green parts of the scallion. Continue to cook until the scallions are wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Take off the stove and seat aside to cool. Once the mixture has cooled, add the eggs and the pulverized shrimp to it and combine well. Set aside.
Once the rieu (crab mixture) is finished being prepared, turn the broth’s heat to high. When the broth is boiling, pour the rieu into the broth, drizzling it in a complete circle around the pot. The rieu will instantly begin to form as the mixture hits the boiling broth. Adjust the broth’s seasoning one final time after the rieu has fully cooked. Serve immediately over vermicelli rice noodles (bun) with shredded lettuce, fine shrimp sauce, and lime wedges.
Makes 8 to 10 servings. [For Printable Recipe Click Here]
More Vietnamese recipes on Gastronomy:
- Bánh Bột Lọc – Clear Shrimp and Pork Dumplings
- Bánh Cuốn – Vietnamese Rice Crepes with Ground Pork and Mushrooms
- Bánh Giò – Minced Pork and Rice Dumplings
- Bánh Mì Tôm Chiên – Shrimp Toasts
- Bò Bía – Vietnamese Jicama, Carrot, Chinese Sausage, Egg, and Dried Shrimp Rolls
- Bò Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew
- Cà Dê Nướng – Roasted Eggplant with Soy Sauce and Chilies
- Cà Ri Gà – Vietnamese Chicken Curry
- Canh Chua Chay – Vegetarian Sour Soup
- Chả Giò – Vietnamese Egg Rolls
- Cháo Chả – Porridge with Braised Pork Sausage
- Cơm Chiên – Vietnamese Fried Rice
- Gỏi Cuốn – Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Rolls with Hoisin Dipping Sauce
- Mì Cà Ri Gà – Chicken Curry with Fresh Egg Noodles
- Mom’s Lollipop Fried Chicken
- Nui Lòng – Grandpa’s Spaghetti with Offal
- Nước Chấm Chay – Vegetarian Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- Pasta with Eggs and Pork Floss
- Phở Chay – Vegetarian Phở
- Thịt Kho – Caramelized Braised Pork and Eggs
- Thịt Nướng – Vietnamese Grilled Pork
- Đậu Hũ Kho – Braised Tofu with Mushrooms and Tomatoes
- Đậu Hủ Xả Ớt – Fried Tofu with Chilies and Lemongrass