Bun Bo Hue, top iconic dish of Hue cuisine

3 years ago 7845

Bun Bo Hue - Spicy Beef Rice Vermicelli Soup - Hue Vietnamese cusine, Vietnamese food

Located in the middle of Central Vietnam, Hue had been chosen as the metropolis of the Southern Vietnam (''Đàng Trong'') under the reign of Nguyen Lords and then the Capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty (1805-1945). As the result, Hue cuisine reflects the sophisticated arts on either royal or common dishes.  

Hue vermicelli or Spicy Beef Rice Vermicelli Soup (“Bún bò Huế”) comes out as one of the top iconic dishes you should-not-miss in Hue. Its main ingredients consist of rice vermicelli (“bún”), beef shank (“bò bắp”), pork knuckle (“giò heo”), seasoned beef paste (“mọc bò”), cooked pig blood (“huyết heo”) and spicy broth. In Hue, it is simply called of “Bún bò” or “Bún bò giò heo” to refer to main ingredients of the dish. But as it was introduced to the other areas throughout Vietnam and became famous for its fabulous taste, people started to called it of “Bún bò Huế” to define its origin.  

On a trip to Vietnam in 2014, the world famous chef Anthony Bourdain emphazied that "In my way of thinking, in the hierarchy of delicious, slurpy stuff in a bowl, Bun Bo Hue is at the very top."

Rice vermicelli and the story of the legendary ancestor

Situated about 10km away from Hue’s center, Van Cu Village is considered as the birthplace of Hue rice vermicelli business.

Long time ago, as nobody can remember exactly the name of the ancestor of this business, so people usually call her of “Bà Bún” (Madam Bun or Madam Rice Vermicelli). Madam Bun was a very beautiful, kind and hard-working lady. While most of people in the Village living on farming, she made rice vermicelli from rice flour to sell. Her homemade rice vermicelli was favourable thanks to its smoth noodles and characterized taste. Therefore, some other girls in the Village started to feel jealous with her.

Once, the Village experienced the three continuous poor crops. These haters took the opportunity to spreading the rumor that the deities got angry because of Madam Bun’s disrespect by grinding rice, the gifted pearl from gods, to make rice vermicelli.  Nerviousity covered the Village’s atmosphere. The Village Council called for Madam Bun to request her to quit her career or she had to leave the Village.

Madam Bun decided to say goodbye to everyone in the Village because she really love the rice vermicelli business. The Village Council gave her a favour by appointing five strong men to help her carrying things to the new land.

They kept going to the eastern. Each man took turn to carry the millstone until exhausted. They finally stopped at Van Cu Village, where the last man collapsed from exhaustion. Madam Bun stayed back the Village and taught the locals how to make good rice vermicelli. Rice vermicelli from Van Cu then soonly became a famous brand and their products were popularly supplied in the area from Hue to Quang Tri, Quang Nam and Da Nang.

To show the respectation to Madam Bun, the ancestor of rice vermicelli business, nowadays, the locals celebrate the Rice Vermicelli Festival annually on the 22nd day of the first month on lunar calendar.   

The impression of Hue cuisine

“Bún Bò Huế” is very unusual by combining beef and pork in one dish harmoniously. It tastes sweet of bones borth, salty of Hue shrimp paste, sour of pineapples and spicy of chilies at once.

The broth must be made from beef bones which are cooked for long hours. Seasoned beef is cooked very quickly before putting into the broth pot. Instead of using five-spice powder, lemongrass is used to remove the smell of beef and bones and delicate the taste of the broth. The broth is heaten until scum rising on the surface. The first broth is strained off then and only the second clear broth is used to serve for the dish. Pineapples help beef shank and pick knuckle getting tender faster but still remaining crispy.

Hue shrimp paste (“mắm ruốc Huế”) is a must element to create the true flavor of this special broth. Without it, the dish is just a normal beef rice vermicelli soup only, definitely not a “Bún Bò Huế” anymore.  Hue shrimp paste must be boiled with water on the day before. Hue chefs only take its clear layer on top to mix with the broth.

Hue people love spicy foods and Bun bo Hue therefore is known as Vietnamese Hue Beef Spicy Rice Vermicelli Soup. The attractive greasy orangy oil layer you can see on top of every broth pot is made of red pepper flakes and lemongrass. Adds in of sliced green horn chilies and Hue special Sate Chile Sauce are always available for spicy-foods-lovers.

Sliced banana flower (“hoa chuối bào”) is served along with a steaming bowl of Bun Bo Hue to balance the grease of pork knuckles.

The most interesting about Bun Bo Hue is its seasonal flavors. Hue chefs do care everything even small details to serve customers with their best. As the weather getting hot, they adjust the broth less salty. But as it turning colder in winter, the broth tastes more salty and stronger of lemongrass smell.

Bun Bo Hue Today

In 1960s to 1970s, Bun Bo Hue of Madam Rot (“Bún bò mụ Rớt”) was the most famous and favourite address of the local gourmets. Crosing Gia Hoi Bridge to Chi Lang Street, just behind Dieu De Pagoda on the right side, there was a small store selling Bun Bo.  Though the little store had no signboard but its reputation had spreaded largely and became the critition for true Hue-style Rice Vermicelli Soup.

The image of ladies with their shoulder pole hand hangers from Gia Hoi spreading out to streets and towns in very early mornings has long become a familiar and beloved memory of Hue generations. Those hawkers also contribute to introduce the famous Bun Bo around. 

Rice vermicelli of Bun Bo Hue must be in bigger size (about half size of a chop stick) of normal one. The broth must be clear and clean but still tasted of characterized Hue shrimp paste’s flavour.  Bowls were not too big but enough to hold on hands. Having Bun Bo Hue with chopsticks and drinking the delicious broth from the bowl was the proper way to enjoy the dish in the old days. Nowadays, stores always have chop sticks and spoons ready for customers.

After years, the original version of Bun Bo Hue has gradually changed to suite to many types of customers. Many Hue elders complain that it is difficult to find the true Hue-style Bun Bo today even in Hue, its birthplace. Some stores even use small size noodles (which is the most unacceptable revision to fans of traditional Bun Bo Hue) and more toppings are availables such as rare beef fillet, sliced pork, pork cake, seansoned crab meat paste, etc. Bean sprouts (“giá”), sliced grory morning (“rau muốn bào”), sliced cabbage (“bắp cải bào”), Vietnamese balm (“rau kinh giới”), cinnamon basil (“rau quế”) and lecture (“xà lách”) are added to vary vegetables serving along with the dish.

To find a much closer to the original version of Bun Bo Hue, people can try Bun Bo Hue in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) where many Hue families lived in and opened stores to sell their hometown’s specialty. Standard size of noodles and most of the main ingredients are still retained comparing to the original one.

Though culinary adoptation is a characteristic during the development process, the identity of Hue cuisine is obviously a key element to decide a successful bowl of Bun Bo Hue or not, which any chefs are looking forward to delivering to their gourmand customers. 

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