VietnamFood & DrinksBun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup

Bun Rieu – Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup

How many types of Vietnamese noodle soups can you name off the top of your head? We know that Pho probably pops up in your mind first. However, any Vietnamese can promise that once you venture out of your beloved Pho, you’ll experience a wonderful world of flavors the Vietnamese cuisine offers. Lesser known worldwide but very popular among locals, Vietnamese Bun Rieu is another dish you must try.

Ingredients of Vietnamese Bun Rieu and How to Enjoy it

Four main components to look out for in a bowl of Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup are crab paste, broth, noodles (or rice vermicelli), and meatballs. A Bun Rieu bowl also features other participants: blood tofu/blood pudding, fried tofu, tomatoes, shrimps, dried shrimps, fried shallots sprinkled on top, and even sea snails.

The Ingredients of Vietnamese Bun Rieu

  • Crab Paste: “Rieu” is crab paste in Vietnamese. Crab paste may not look pleasing to the eye, but its creamy texture and rich taste will melt you. Instead of fancy oceanic crabs, paddy crabs (tiny, about one-tenth the size of an average sea crab), which abound in Vietnamese paddy fields, are used to make the crab paste of Bun Rieu.
  • Broth: As with other Vietnamese noodle soups, a good broth demands time and dedication. It is cooked by boiling pork bones or rib bones in a big pot of water for hours. This is meant to achieve a naturally sweet broth flavor that pleases every taste bud. Lazy cooks would use industrial MSG and annoy their diners with an unpleasant and unhealthy sweetness. Tomatoes are another contributor to the flavorful broth of Bun Rieu.
  • Noodles/Rice vermicelli: made from rice, noodles in Bun Rieu is similar to that in Bun Bo Hue but thinner.
  • Meatballs, or alternatively, Cha Lua (Vietnamese cold cuts): meaty and tasty, increasing the calories of the dish, making sure diners have a full, energizing meal.
  • Fried tofu: tofu is cut in cubes and deep-fried to have a crispy outer layer. A component that helps balance the amount of protein, making the dish less fatty.
  • Blood pudding: made from pork blood. Bland taste or can be a bit salty. Supplement of many minerals and add texture to the dish.
  • Fresh herbs and vegetables: bean sprouts, banana flowers, morning glory. The ultimate key to the balance of protein and fiber.
  • Optional condiments: shrimp paste, chili/spicy sauce, lime.
The crab paste is the soul of Bun Rieu

How Locals Enjoy their Bun Rieu

Bun Rieu was once a farmers’ food due to its humble ingredients, but now it is widely enjoy in cities and tourist areas. A final touch to a flavorful Bun Rieu is the shrimp paste – which most people, including locals, are put off. The pungent smell might take a while to get used to, so if you’re uncomfortable, it is ok to omit it. Some vendors, mostly Southern-style ones, offer tamarind dipping sauce instead of shrimp paste.

All of the steps below are also optional, but this is how Vietnamese people like to “customize” their bowl of soup. You can try it out or just enjoy Bun Rieu as it is for the original taste.

  1. The noodle soup comes with a side of fresh vegetables and herbs. You can request the vendor to blanche it to make sure the bacteria got eliminated.
  2. Put the vegetables and herbs into the hot soup.
  3. Add some kumquat or lime juice to add some citrusy notes to the broth.
  4. Add some shrimp paste (if you can handle it).
  5. Add fresh chilies for some spice.
  6. Mix everything together and enjoy.

The Origin of Bun Rieu – Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup

Bun Rieu is a well-known dish to all locals across Vietnam, but it is believed to originate from the North, particularly from the people of the Red River Delta (Dong Bang Song Hong), the biggest delta in the North. Then, following the southward migration of northern natives, it spread to the Central and South regions.

The northern version of Bun Rieu is less “crowded” than that of the south, starring crab paste, tomatoes (wedged slices), fried tofu, small cubes of fried pork fat, and shrimp paste. When it gets to the Central region, Cha Lua (cold cuts) are added. Then, when it gets to the South (to be more exact, the Mekong Delta region), blood pudding, pork ribs, pettitoes, squids, dried shrimps, and even sea snails (Oc Buou) are added. Another note is that southern people may also use tamarind to season the broth, besides shrimp paste.

Different Versions of Bun Rieu – Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup

There is a difference between the North and South of Vietnam in the way they make crab paste. The northern crab paste is made solely from grinding whole paddy crabs (even the hard shell, but after cleaning and ground thoroughly, the creamy, soft texture is ensured). The southern crab paste, on the other hand, has a firmer texture since ground pork and egg yolk are added to the paste.

We have regional Bun Rieu’s of North, South and Central Vietnam with varied components as just mentioned above. But essentially, based on the main ingredients in the bowl of Bun Rieu, we have the following varieties:

  • Regular Bun Rieu: crab paste, tofu, blood pudding, meatballs
  • Bun Rieu Cua Oc: regular Bun Rieu + sea snails
  • Bun Rieu Tom Cua: regular Bun Rieu + shrimps
  • Bun Rieu Cua Gio Heo: regular Bun Rieu + pettitoes
Southern version with dried shrimps and pork
Northern Bun Rieu is simpler, with snails as the signature
Northern people also like to add a balut for more protein in their bowl

Where to Eat Bun Rieu – Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup in Ho Chi Minh City

Although there are several options of Bun Rieu restaurants and street vendors in Ho Chi Minh City, the following 3 Bun Rieu restaurants offer decent, tasty Bun Rieu (we have tasted and testify this). They also offer a varied menu of Vietnamese drinks and desserts, if you fancy trying.

1. Bun Rieu Nha (District 1 and District 3)

Locations and Opening Hours:

  • 93 Nguyen Thai Hoc, District 1. Open 7 AM to 10:30 PM
  • 19E Ky Dong, District 3. Open 8.30 AM to 10 PM

Price range: VND 35,000 – 60,000 for Bun Rieu. There’s also crab paste hotpot at about VND 260,000.

Bun Rieu Nha looks very discernible from the outside. The colorful and warm decor inside. And the taste of its Bun Rieu didn’t disappoint. It is one of the rare places we truly feel the authentic taste of crab paste, creamy and savory. Meatballs are simple but done right, again very “real”, unlike the mediocre processed meatballs you may stumble into in some insensitive Bun Rieu street vendor. It is a convenient location in the city center, so it is definitely a good place to sample Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup.

Bun Rieu Nha from the outside

2. Bun Oc Thanh Hai (District 3)

Address: 14/12 Ky Dong, District 3
Opening hours: 7 AM to 9 PM
Price range: VND 32,000 – 45,000

Nestled in a big alley branch from Ky Dong Street, District 3, Bun Oc Thanh Hai offers the special sea snails Bun Rieu and regular Bun Rieu. We were pleased with the taste of all the ingredients in a bowl of Bun Rieu Cua Oc of this restaurant: the broth, the crab paste, tomatoes, and sea snails. And unlike most other Bun Rieu restaurants, you don’t have any tofu, meatballs, or pork cold cuts in your dish, but you can order a serving of fried tofu at VND 10,000 if you want. The frequent comes and goes of delivery staff is a testament to the quality and popularity of dishes here.

Bun oc Thanh Hai is nestled in a large alley

3. Bun Rieu Tom Cua (District 10)

Address: 363 Vinh Vien, District 10
Opening hours: 9 AM – 9 PM
Prices range: VND 32,000 to 40,000

This restaurant in District 10 offers Bun Rieu Tom Cua (regular Bun Rieu + shrimps). As opposed to the two restaurants above whose tastes gravitate towards the northern style, the broth at this restaurant is sweeter and more southerners-friendly. However, we find it a bit less sophisticated and satisfying than the broth of the other two. Since it follows and reflects the Southern style, the crab paste has a firmer texture featuring ground meat and egg yolk. You can try the northern way at the other two restaurants and the southern way at this eatery to find out your preference.

Bun Rieu Tom Cua is located on the busy food street of District 10 – Vinh Vien Street

4. Bun Rieu Ganh – Ben Thanh Market (District 1)

Address: 163 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
Opening hours: 7 AM – 6:30 PM
Prices range: from VND 40,000

Bun Rieu Ganh is a popular tourist restaurant 

Check out more exciting things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:

Summary of Bun Rieu – Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup

Try Bun Rieu, one of the most popular noodle soups among locals, to know what it tastes like to have crab paste, noodles, savory broth, fried tofu, meatballs, and so on in one dish!

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