Hanoi Special Rice Noodle Soup (Bun Thang Recipe)

  • Preparation: 30 mins
  • Cooking: 30 mins
  • Skill level: Medium
  • Servings: 4

Description Hanoi Special Rice Noodle Soup Recipe (Bún Thang)

Hanoi Special Rice Noodle Soup (Bun Thang) is one of the most complex expressions of Vietnamese culinary prowess. Requiring many ingredients and much time, this popular Vietnamese Noodle Soup is traditionally reserved for special events and holidays such as Tet. The golden broth contains chicken, pork, and dried squid or shrimp. The toppings may include those items, too, in addition to egg shreds, giò lụa (sausage), and salted duck egg yolk. At the table, shrimp sauce gives the broth extra depth, and if it is affordable, male belostomatid beetle extract (cà cuống) is added from the tip of a toothpick, imparting a mesmerizing fragrance.
Aficionados of Hanoi Special Rice Noodle Soup Recipe (Bún Thang) can be particular. In a 1996 essay, food writer Bang Son asserts that its refinement is not for merely appeasing hunger, insisting that it be served in fine china on a joyous occasion to cherished loved ones. While my mom isn’t that fanatical, she is a stickler for certain traditional notions, such as serving bún thang piping hot.
In my kitchen, I omit the beetle juice because the chemical version sold in the United State overwhelms the delicate flavors of this Vietnamese dish. Also, though bún thang is often savored in smallish bowls as part of a multicourse meal, I prefer to serve it in big ones.


    1 chicken, 3½ pounds, excess fat and tail removed, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 quarts plus 1½ cups water
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 pounds meaty pork neck or spine bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 dried squid (about 2 ounces total), briefly rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • ¾ cup dried shrimp
  • Cooked chicken, shrimp, and pork from the broth, at room temperature
  • 2 or 3 thin Egg Sheets, quartered and cut into fine strips, at room temperature
  • ⅓ pound Classic Silky Sausage, cut into fine matchsticks, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander or cilantro leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Spoonful of fine shrimp sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped Sweet and Salty Preserved Radish, optional
  • 2 or 3 Thai or serrano chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 pound small dried round rice noodles, cooked in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, drained, and flushed with cold water

Method Hanoi Special Rice Noodle Soup Recipe (Bún Thang)

Put the chicken pieces, salt, and the 4 quarts water into a stockpot (about 12-quart capacity) and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and then use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Add the onion and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
2, Remove the breast from the pot and set aside in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes to prevent it from drying out. Add the pork bones, squid, and fish sauce to the pot. Raise the heat to high to return to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer gently. Again, skim off any scum. Simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.
3, When the breast has finished soaking, drain the water and set the breast aside. Allow it to cool completely, then shred the meat with your fingers into fine pieces about ⅛ inch wide, pulling it along its natural grain and discarding the bones and skin. Put the chicken shreds in a small container, cover, and refrigerate.
4, To rehydrate the dried shrimp, put them in a small saucepan with the 1½ cups water, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook for 10 minutes, or until slightly soft. Drain the shrimp into a sieve placed over a bowl. Add the cooking liquid to the simmering broth. Let the shrimp cool completely, then put it into a food processor or electric mini-chopper and process to grind to a fine texture. Transfer to a small container, cover, and refrigerate.
5, When the broth is ready, use tongs to transfer the pork bones to a large bowl filled with cold water. Let them soak for 5 minutes to prevent them from drying out and turning dark. Drain the pork bones, let cool until they can be handled, and then remove the meat, discarding the bones and any odd bits. Use your fingers to break the meat into pea-sized pieces or tear it into fine shreds. Put in a small container, cover, and refrigerate.
6, Position a fine-mesh sieve (or a coarse-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth) over a pot and gently ladle the broth into the sieve. Discard the solids, including the chicken parts. (This seems wasteful, but these parts are spent.) Use a ladle to skim as much fat from the top of the broth as you like. (To make this task easier, you can cool the broth, refrigerate overnight, lift off the solidified fat, and then reheat before continuing.) There should be about 3 quarts (12 cups) broth.
Bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat while you are assembling the bowls. At the same time, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, for reheating the noodles. Make sure the chicken, shrimp, pork, egg, and sausage are at room temperature; ready the Vietnamese coriander and pepper for assembling the bowls; and put the shrimp sauce, preserved radish, and chiles on the table.
8, Place a portion of the noodles on a large vertical-handle strainer (or mesh sieve) and dunk the noodles in the boiling water. After 5 to 10 seconds, pull the strainer from the water, letting the water drain back into the pot. Empty the noodles into a bowl and repeat with the remaining portions, while proceeding to assemble each bowl as the noodles are reheating and draining.
Visually divide up each bowl into quadrants. Cover 1 quadrant with chicken, the next quadrant with egg, and the third one with sausage. If you have less shrimp and pork than the other ingredients, fill the remaining quadrant with half of each; if you have lots of pork, cover the quadrant with it, and put the shrimp in the center. Put some Vietnamese coriander in the middle, and then sprinkle with pepper.
9, Raise the heat on the broth and bring to a rolling boil. Do a final taste test, adding more salt, if necessary. Ladle about 2 cups broth into each bowl, distributing the hot liquid evenly to warm all the ingredients. Serve immediately with the fine shrimp sauce, preserved radish, and chiles. Diners should stir in about ¼ teaspoon shrimp sauce to finish their bowls. The radish and chiles add crunch and heat.

Chef's Note

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