Mom's Bun Bo Hue Chay (Vietnamese vegetarian spicy "beef" noodle soup)

After many requests from my sister and cousin, I finally documented my mom's vegetarian bun bo chay!  Get ready, this recipe is kind of intense and usually takes 2 days to make.  My mom makes a giant pot of it and the whole family eats it in the span of a day or two.  She freezes the broth for later use (if there is any left over!).  The flavor does enhance each time the broth is reheated, so it's usually better the second day and each subsequent time.  It's so good, I often prefer it to regular bun bo (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).

Bun bo Hue is a specialty of the central region of Vietnam, where my dad's side is from.  You won't find it as commonly as pho or bun (vermicelli bowls) in most Vietnamese restaurants.  This is a soup that is a labor of love and family and spicy-tolerance.  My ong noi (paternal grandfather) used to make the best bun bo hue!  Now my Aunt Angelique/Co Be makes a cleaner, tasty bun bo Hue which she luckily taught my sister so the tradition can continue. See my aunt Co Be's recipe here: Now that my dad is a strict vegetarian, my mom has figured out a way to make bun bo vegetarian.  No small feat.  Tons of people have asked for the recipe at Buddhist retreats and family get-togethers, but my mom writes nothing down so this is my attempt at watching her to record it:

Mommy's Bun Bo Hue Chay (Vegetarian Spicy 'Beef' Noodle Soup)
  • *3 stalks lemongrass, outer layers and ends discarded and stalk bruised to release aroma.  Cut in 1/2: use green part for boiling, white part for frying
  • *1 ~4" piece of ginger
  • *1 large yellow onion
  • *1/2 pineapple, about 3 cups cubed
  • *2 green apples, peeled
  • *1 pear
  • *5 dried shiitake mushrooms (Japanese or Korean brands, try to avoid Chinese brands)
  • 1 tbs. salt
  • 1 tbs. vegetable bouillon
  • 1 small daikon
  • 1/2 jicama
  • 1/2 leak, white part reserved for sauce
  • 1 celery
  • 1/4 winter melon
  • 1 napa cabbage
*note: the first 7 ingredients are imperative, the rest of the vegetables depend on what my mom has to clean out of her fridge.  Avoid vegetables that will leach color or strong flavors such as carrots.  Rest are usually fair game.
  • 1 bulb minced garlic
  • the reserved white parts of leeks
  • 3 tbs. fermented bean curd chunk and some of the sauce from the jar (chao)
  • 3 tbs. vegetarian "shrimp" soybean sauce (mam ruoc chay)
  • 1 tbs. ground red pepper**
  • 1 tbs. smoked paprika**
**a combination of these 2 ground together can be found in a spice pack at Vietnamese grocery stores that makes the broth really red!

Rest of Bun Bo Hue Chay assembly
each bowl should contain (amounts approximated, do whatever you want here!)
  • 3 tbs. chopped green onions
  • 1/2 c. cooked rice vermicelli (Bun Bo Hue)
  • 3-4 cubes of fried tofu
  • 3-5 slices of reserved shitake mushrooms
  • 3-5 slices of vegetarian "chicken ham" roll (cha lua chay)
  • 1 lemon thyme, minced
  • 2 tsp. chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbs. bean sprouts
  • 1/3 c. shredded purple and white cabbage
  • 1 tsp. of sauce (or depending on spiciness preference, more)
  • 2 c. broth
  1. For all broth ingredients: wash, peel, and quarter or chop in large chunks.  
  2. In a 5 gallon stock pot, add all broth ingredients and water to fill. Allow to come to a boil, then simmer for at least 1 hour.  Skim foam from top as needed.
  3. Using a fine mesh strainer, drain the broth into a large container or pot.  Reserve the shitake mushrooms for later assembly.
  1. Finely chop the white reserved parts of lemongrass.  In a large pan, fry lemongrass in 2 tbs. vegetable oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until fragrant.  Add half of this to the broth and reserve half in pan.
  2. In frying pan, add chopped garlic and continue cooking chopped lemongrass until golden brown.  Turn off heat and add fermented bean curd, mam ruoc chay, ground red pepper and smoked paprika.
  1. Prepare bun noodles based on package directions.  Drain well.
  2. Warm up broth for amount of bowls you plan on making and add the sauce.  
  3. Place noodles, then cabbage, sauce, green onions, fried tofu, veggie chicken ham,and few slices of shitake mushrooms in each bowl.  Add broth.
  4. Serve at the table with a plate of bean sprouts, lemon thyme, cilantro, additional cabbage, and sauce for individuals to dress bowls as desired.


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  2. Thank you for the detailed instruction in your recipe. This recipe is indeed intense but I will try because it sounds and looks like the effort will be highly rewarded.


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