Those of us who post on the California board have recently been discussing an interesting Vietnamese soup, bun bo hue. These days, most hounds are acquainted with the joys of pho – that wonderful combination of rice vermicelli, rich beef broth, various types of beef, and garnishes. Pho is indeed a wonderful thing, but most phos are similar. I don’t mean to say that the quality is always the same, but that all pho seems to be within certain parameters and strives to achieve the same ideal. Bun bo hue, on the other hand, seems to vary significantly from restaurant to restaurant, which is one of the things that make it interesting.
The basics of the soup are round vermicelli, more like spaghetti than pho noodles. These noodles are served with beef, boney pork, pork blood (I usually ask for the soup “without blood”), and garnishes in a spicy broth. An ideal bbh broth will have some citrus tang, some shrimp paste funkiness, meaty flavors, and chili heat in a balance which varies from presentation to presentation.
The meats also vary. While all bun bo hues that I have tried include slices of beef (of various quality), the boney pork element ranges from meatless pigfoot to a slice of pork hock or a slice of tendonous, gelatinous pork leg. Some bbh will also include slices of pork loaf.
Garnishes also vary widely. Sprigs of mint, wedges of citrus, sliced or whole chilies, and bean sprouts seem most common, but other garnishes I’ve been served include banana blossom, Vietnamese coriander, basil, purple perilla leaf, shredded red cabbage, and some unrecognizable stems of something.
In any case, if you are looking for something different at your local Vietnamese place, try the bun bo hue. I think you’ll like it!