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This easy bun rieu recipe is for an utterly delicious Vietnamese crab noodle soup. The star of the dish are crab meatballs swimming in a rich and savory tomato-based broth. Served with fresh Vietnamese herbs, each flavorful spoonful will leave you craving more.
What is Bun Rieu?
Bun Rieu is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup dish made with crab. It’s known as nun rieu cua in Vietnamese. And in English, the name translates to Vietnamese crab noodle soup.
The soup gets its name from the use of crab paste or crab meat in its preparation.
This delicious and savory soup is a rice noodle soup topped with crab meatballs made with a mixture of pork and shrimp.
A rich tomato and pork-based broth with shrimp paste and fish sauce flavors packs a punch.
And, the addition of fresh Vietnamese herbs makes for an incredibly tasty bun rieu Vietnamese noodle soup.
What is the Difference Between Canh Bun and Bun Rieu
Canh Bun and Bun Rieu are both popular Vietnamese noodle soups though they differ in their ingredients and preparation methods.
Canh Bun is a clear, light broth made with pork bones and shrimp or crab. The noodles used in canh bun are thicker and wider than those used in bun rieu.
On the other hand, bun rieu is a tomato-based noodle soup that features crab meat as its main ingredient.
The noodles are thinner than those used in canh bun. The bun rieu broth is slightly thicker and reddish due to the use of tomatoes and shrimp paste.
Bun Rieu Origin and History
Bun Rieu is a delicious Vietnamese crab soup that originated in northern Vietnam. It is common to find Bun Rieu across the country, and each region has its unique variation.
The dish is said to have evolved from a traditional noodle soup dish, which was adapted to incorporate the abundant small crabs found in rice paddy fields.
Bun rieu with crab or bún riêu cua in Vietnamese is the most popular version. You will also find other types of bun rieu made with snails or fish.
Today, bún riêu is commonly found at street stalls and eateries throughout the country.
You’ll also find it internationally at traditional Vietnamese restaurants.
Discovering Bun Rieu in Vietnam
We enjoyed bún riêu Vietnamese noodle soup in central and southern Vietnam, and our most memorable experience was in Danang.
At a hidden local eatery, one morning, we sat amongst locals for what quickly became our favorite Vietnamese noodle soup.
The soup we had was served with freshly caught crab from the sea. , tomatoes, and pork pieces, along with a heaping plate of Vietnamese herbs.
The taste of bun rieu was exceptional. Richly flavored with crab mixture and pork. The pork-based broth with tomatoes and herbs was nothing short of delicious.
To describe the taste of brun rieu, you can expect a flavorful and savory noodle soup with slightly sour flavors.
To help you taste the wonderful bun rieu flavors at home, use the freshest ingredients you can find as you make this simple bun rieu recipe.
Bun Rieu Recipe – How To Make Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup
This easy-to-follow bun rieu recipe is full of flavor and easy to make at home. You only need a handful of ingredients and about 30 minutes of prep time. Aim for the freshest ingredients available, but don’t hesitate to make substitutions along the way.
Bun Rieu Recipe Tips
When making the best bun rieu at home, here are some tips and bún riêu recipe substitutions to make the cooking process easier.
- Use store-bought crab meat – For this bun rieu recipe, use store bought fresh crab meat for the best flavors. Surimi or imitation crab will not work for this recipe.
- Use chicken cubes – traditionally in Vietnam, bún riêu is made with pork broth made from scratch using pork neck bones, pork riblets, or pork shoulder. To make it easier to cook this recipe at home, we are using chicken broth made from chicken cubes.
- Use fresh Vietnamese herbs and vegetables – To eat bun rieu as they do in Vietnam, head to your local Asian grocery. For the most authentic flavors pick up water spinach or rau muống, Vietnamese balm herb or Kinh gioi, Vietnamese Perilla herb, and Vietnamese mint.
Bun Rieu Recipe Substitutions
- Alternatives for Vietnamese balm and water spinach – If you cannot find Vietnamese balm, substitute it with Thai basil instead. Similarly, substitute water spinach with traditional spinach.
- Use Bun Rieu crab soup base (optional) – Optional and only if you choose, you can add a little crab soup base to your broth. Use only a little for additional flavors.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you love Vietnamese food, see our other popular recipes to make at home.
How Long is Bun Rieu Good in The Fridge?
This bun rieu Vietnamese recipe contains a mixture of crab and shrimp, both of which tend to break down very quickly.
Likewise, tomatoes are acidic and if left in cooked food or soup, can change the flavor of the dish. We recommend keeping bun rieu for a maximum of one day in the fridge.
However, once you taste the delicious flavors of this Vietnamese noodle soup, it will quickly disappear.
Bun Rieu Step by Step Instructions
Prepare and Cook The Broth
Chop onions, tomatoes, garlic and cook in a stock pot with oil. Add fish sauce, shrimp paste, and tomato paste and let it cook for a few minutes.
Add 8 cups of water and let the mixture cook uncovered for about 30 minutes.
Prepare Crab Meatballs
Place chopped shrimp, crab meat, and ground pork with seasonings in a large mixing bowl. Add an egg and mix well.
Use two spoons for shaping and making bun rieu meatballs. Once formed into little balls, place them gently in the stock pot with hot broth.
Cook Noodles and Assemble Serving Bowl
After cooking rice noodles following the cooking instructions provided on the package, place a small amount in a serving bowl. Add tofu to the rice vermicelli noodles.
Add some meatballs, tomatoes, and bun rieu hot broth. Garnish with Vietnamese herbs for a delicious soup.
Bun Rieu Recipe
For the broth
- 4 chicken stock cubes
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp fermented shrimp paste
- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 8 cups water
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 onion large, 140 g
- 6 tomatoes large, 800 g
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- Bun rieu seasoning optional
For the crab meatballs
- 200 g rice noodles
- 150 g fresh tofu
- mint leaves
- Perilla leaves
- Vietnamese balm or Thai basil
- lemon slices
For the broth
- Peel and chop the onion into fine pieces. Wash tomatoes and cut them into quarters. Peel the garlic and crush it.
- Place a large stock pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil, the minced onion, the chicken bouillon cubes, and the crushed garlic cloves. Sauté for about five minutes.
- Next, add the cut tomatoes and mix, turning occasionally.
- Add fish sauce, fermented shrimp paste, salt, sugar, and tomato paste. Mix for 1 -2 minutes.
- Add the eight cups of water into the soup pot and cook over medium-high heat for 30-mins, uncovered. This allows the broth to develop its intense flavors.
- As the broth is cooking, start preparing the meatballs.
For the meatballs
- Wash and dry the fresh shrimp. Using a sharp knife cut the shrimp into very small pieces, almost like ground shrimp.
- Place the chopped shrimp in a small bowl. Add crab, ground pork, chopped onions and chives, egg, crushed garlic cloves, fish sauce, and a pinch of salt to taste.
- Mix all the ingredients together. If the consistency of the meatballs is too runny, add a little wheat flour.
- Using two spoons, shape the mixture into meatballs and place them into the large pot of boiling broth. Reduce heat if the soup broth is bubbling too intensely.
- Cook for about fifteen minutes over medium-low heat until the crab mixture meatballs float to the top. You can also break one meatball to make sure it is not raw on the inside.
For the noodles
- Cook the rice vermicelli noodles according to the package instructions.
- Drain excess water and set aside for serving.
Assemble the dish
- Divide the noodles and place them in the bottom of a bowl. Add fried tofu and meatballs.
- Using a ladle, pour the hot broth and tomatoes into a bowl.
- Garnish with your choice of fresh herbs.
- Serve immediately and enjoy.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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