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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shrimp and Crab Vermicelli Noodle Soup (Bún Riêu Tôm Cua)

For the last few days, I woke up in the morning wanting to blog this bún riêu recipe, but it was so difficult to do so from home. Housework is endless and somehow there's too many distractions at home. I had to force myself out of my PJs and get to a place where my creativity can flow and my thoughts are clear and I can just daydream of noodle. A coffee shop always does the trick. 

Bún (noodle) Riêu (meat made of a mixture of crab, shrimps, or ground pork) is a classic Vietnamese. The common ingredients in bún riêu are shrimp and crab meatballs, thin slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork ham), fried tofu cubes, and an assortment of herbs and vegetables.

Most of the recipes called for canned “minced crab in spices” then mix with ground pork and eggs to make the riêu, but I prefer to prepare my food, in general, from scratch when I can. The broth of bún riêu is prepared with pork bones then seasoned with salt, sugar, fish sauce, and fermented shrimp paste. When eating bún riêu, I like to squeeze some tangy lime juice into my bowl and enjoy it with a bountiful plate of crunchy, shredded water spinach stems (rau muống), or shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, and assorted herbs. The combination makes for a mouth-water dish. 
RECIPE: Bún Riêu Tôm Cua
make 8 quarts of broth
dried vermicelli noodle
fried tofu cubes, optional
for Shrimp and Crab Balls
1 pound shrimps, shells removed and deveined 
1/2 pound crab meat
1/4 cup dried shrimps
4 eggs
about 4 green onion, white part only, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
for Broth
about 3-4 pounds pork bones, or pork neck bones, or pork ribs cut into 2-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled, cut in half
a handful of garlic
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
4-5 large tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon annatto oil, for color, optional
iceberg lettuce, shredded
bean sprouts
assorted herbs (perilla leaves, mint leaves) 
water spinach (rau muong), splitted, optional
shrimp paste
lemon or lime wedges
cilantro, coarsely chopped
green scallions, finely cut
Preparing Dried Shrimps

Wash dried shrimps then place them in the tea ball strainer. Set aside.
Cooking Pork Stock

If using pork neck bones, ask the butcher to cut it into about 3 inch chunks. If  using spare ribs, have them cut into 2 inch pieces.

Blanching pork bones: this step is to be done before boiling to remove any impurities from the bones. In a 8-quart stockpot, cover the bones with cold water, bring to a boil. Cook for a couple more minutes before draining. Remove the bones. Rinse under running cold water. Discard the blanching water.

Cooking Broth: Cover the pork bones again with water. Add onion and garlic. Drop the dried shrimps tea ball strainer in the pot with the hanger hangs from the side of the pot. This is how I soften the dried shrimps and also add a bit more depth and complexity to the flavor. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked through, at least 45 minutes. Frequently skimming any additional foam, and debris from the surface. Add more water if needed. You can make the stock a day ahead.

Cooking Noodle

Cook noodle according to the package instructions. Set aside.
Preparing Crab and Shrimps Paste

Remove dried shrimps tea ball straining from the broth pot.   
Place dried shrimps in a food processor and process finely. Set aside.
Place shrimps and white parts of green onion in a food processor and process finely.

In a mixing bowl, combine dried shrimps, shrimps, crab meat, eggs, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, sugar, and salt. Mix well.

Preparing Tomatoes

Cut tomatoes into wedges. If used cherry tomatoes, cut each one into half.
In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of annatto seeds (aka achiote seeds) over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the oil becomes a rich, orange-red color, about 2 minutes. Discarding the seeds. The purpose of using annatto seeds is to give the broth its distinctive red color. You can skip the annatto seeds if preferred.

garlic, shallot, annatto oil

garlic, shallots, annatto oil, tomatoes

garlic, shallots, paprika, tomatoes

Add shallot and garlic to the annatto oil and cook until fragrant. Add half of the tomatoes and cook until soft.
Cooking Bún Riêu Broth

Liquid a tablespoon of shrimp paste with a couple tablespoons of pork stock. Set aside.

Turn up the heat on the stock pot to a rolling boil. Scoop a spoonful of the crab mixture at a time and drop it into the stock. The crab balls will float to the top once cooked.

Turn the heat down to a medium. Season the pork stock with fish sauce, sugar, salt, and shrimp paste mixture. Add the cooked tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and fried tofu cubes, if used, to the stock pot. Adjust the seasoning to achieve the balance of savory, slightly salty, and natural sweet of broth. Simmer the broth for a little longer, about another 10 minutes.

color of broth without annatto oil

color of broth with annatto oil

Add noodle to a bowl. Ladle in the soup, pork, crab meatballs, and tofu cubes, if used. Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onion. Serve with shredded iceberg lettuce, or curled stem of water spinach, bean sprout, assorted herbs, and a squeeze of lime or lemon and you are ready for a slurping good time.

Eat well.  Stay healthy.


  1. I was craving for bun rieu and lo and behold, you posted the recipe! Thank you! I was used to the 'loose rieu' but this just as good. By the way, how much garlic and shallots would you recommend for the tomatoes? I made it following your recipe to a T! Very yummy. The dry shrimp added another level of umami.

  2. I just noticed I didn't list garlic and shallots in the recipe. Thanks for pointing it out. I would use about 4 cloves of garlic and a couple shallots.
    Loose riêu is good too. I like both.

  3. Nice. I love this. This is miền nam style bún riêu that I keep telling my Northern Vietnamese friends. I prefer this always. <3