Bun Rieu – Crab Cake Noodle Soup

Vietnamese food
Bun Rieu was the first dish I learned to cook, there’s always going to be a special spot in my heart for this noodle soup.  Bun Rieu is a noodle soup originated from northern Vietnam made with fresh rice paddy crab, Cua Dong.  During our visit to Vietnam in 2008 my mom actually got the chance to make bun rieu with fresh cua dong. She brought some home from the market to prepare for her pot of bun rieu.  She pound the crabs, shell and all, into a fine paste which is then use to make the rieu (the crab cake) and it also flavor the broth.  Cua dong is incredibly aromatic compare to other crabs and unique to soup like bun rieu and canh bun.  Every time I order a bowl of bun rieu in Vietnam, the first thing you smell is the rice paddy crab and it’s incredible!

Here in the United States fresh rice paddy crabs in out of the question.  We have to settle for frozen cua dong, which can be very difficult to work with.  However, there is a crab paste that can be found as any Asian grocery store often labled as Gia Vi Nau Bun Rieu (seasoning for Bun Rieu).  This crab paste is already season, so you’ll just need to combine with other ingredients to make it for meaty.  The usual suspects are ground pork, ground shrimp, crab meat, and ground dried prawns.  Eggs are then added to bind all these ingredients together.  When this mixture is added to the broth it form into a delicious, crab like cake.  The next best thing to cua dong!


2-3 lbs of pork neck bones
1/2 cup of dried prawns (tom kho)
6-7 roma tomatoes (you can add more if you like tomatoes)
bean curd/tofu (optional)
pork blood (optional)
shrimp paste (mam tom)
rock sugar
cooking oil
fish sauce
1 shallot (hanh huong)
4 stalk of green onions (chopped)
split water spinach (rau muong) or your greens of choice
rice vermicelli

Crab cake or rieu mixture:

1/2 cup of dried prawns
1/2 lb of groud pork
1/2 lb shrimp (I find the shrimp with head attached is sweeter)
1 cup of crab meat (frozen, canned, or fresh whatever you like)
1 jar of crab paste or gia vi nau bun rieu (save 1 tablespoon for color)
2 shallots (hanh huong)
ground pepper

1. Rinse the dried prawns and then soak it with hot water until soften. 1/2 cup will be for the broth and 1/2 cup will be for the rieu mixture.
2.  Par boil the pork bones with plenty of salt and rinse with cool water.  Transfer clean bones to a clean pot (i’m using a 6 quart pot) and fill pot with water.  Add 1/2 cup of dried prawns to the pot as well.uarter the roma tomatoes.  Let pot simmer until pork bone is tender.
3. Rinse and quarter the tomatoes.  Set aside for later.
4. While the pot is cooking, prepare the rieu mixture.   Rinse and peel shrimp.
5.  You can use a knife and cutting board for this part but a food processor would be easier.  Combine 1/2 cup of dried prawns, 1/2 lb of shrimp, 1/2 lb of ground pork, 1 cup of canned crab meat, and 2 shallot.  Ground everything finely in the food processor (picture below for reference).

6.  Combine ground mixture from step #5 with the jar of crab paste (reserve 1 tablespoon for later), 2 eggs, 1/2 tablespoon of shrimp paste, and a pinch of ground pepper.  Mix thoroughly and then let it bind in the fridge while you prepare the broth.

7.  Season the broth with salt (~4 tablespoon), rock sugar (2 tablespoon), and mushroom seasoning (2 tablespoon).  If the pork bones is tender enough, remove from broth.
8.  If you are using tofu and pork blood.  Make sure you rinse both well.  You should even par boil the pork blood.  Add both to pot.
9.  Let pot come to boil and then turn it down to medium.  Spoon the crab mixture from step #6 into the pot.  If the heat is too high, it may cause the crab mixture to break apart.
10.  In a separate pot, heat up some cooking oil to sauteed the tomatoes with 1 chopped shallots.  Season with some fish sauce (1/2 tablespoon).  Transfer the tomatoes to the pot.

11.  In that same pot, heat up some cooking oil.  Add the 1 tablespoon of reserve crab paste, and 3 tablespoon of shrimp paste. Sauteed both ingredients until they marry with the cooking oil.  Add this to the pot.
12.  Taste the broth one last time, add additional fish sauce if needed.
13.  The bun rieu is ready with vermicelli noodle and fresh greens.  Enjoy!

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