This Vietnamese-style bun bo is a traditional soup made with beef bone broth, vermicelli noodles, and seared sirloin steak that has been marinated in lemongrass, ginger, and fish sauce. Similar to yet distinct from pho, it’s a classic for a reason.
It’s nice to have all these separate bowls of bits and pieces to set out with your bun bo so everyone can add more or less of something to their bowls of broth if they want. You can also serve some carrot and daikon pickle on the side here along with the other accompaniments.–Tessa Kiros
Vietnamese-style Bun Bo
For the beef broth
- About 4 1/2 pounds beef bones
- 3 quarts cold water plus more to cover bones
- 2 inch piece ginger peeled and sliced
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 small (about 4 oz) yellow onion peeled
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fish sauce to taste (optional)
For the marinade
- 1 lemongrass stalk outer leaves removed and inner part chopped
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce plus more for serving
- 1/4 teaspoon chopped red chile pepper
- 3 teaspoons light brown sugar or Asian palm sugar packed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the beef
- One (14 ounce) sirloin steak sliced 1/8-inch (2-mm) thick and into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
- 7 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles
- 2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil
- 10 1/2 ounces bean sprouts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce plus more for serving (substitute tamari if keeping gluten-free)
- A couple handfuls mixed leaves such as torn lettuce, morning glory, watercress, Thai basil, perilla
- A couple of handfuls cilantro leaves
- A couple of handfuls Vietnamese mint
- Roasted crushed peanuts
- Fried shallots
- About 10 kumquats (or calamansi) halved (optional)
- Sliced red chile peppers
- Chili sauce preferably Asian
Make the beef broth
- In a large stockpot over high heat, add the beef bones and just enough water to cover.
- Bring to a boil and cook until the impurities come to the surface. Drain, rinse the bones and the stockpot, and return the bones to the stockpot.
- Set the stockpot over high heat and add the ginger, star anise, onion, and 3 quarts water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, partly covered, for 3 hours.
- Strain through a colander, then strain through a sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and fish sauce, if desired. You will need about 2 1/2 cups broth.
☞TESTER TIP: This makes more broth than you’ll need, which is a very good thing. Stash any remaining broth in the freezer until the next bun bo craving hits.
Make the marinade
- In a medium bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients.
Make the beef
- Add the steak pieces to the marinade and turn to coat. Let rest at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse with warm water.
- In a wok or skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 teaspoon oil and add the bean sprouts. Stir-fry until slightly wilted, about 90 seconds, then add the soy sauce. Let it bubble up, then transfer to a bowl.
- Wipe out the wok with paper towels. Set it over high heat and add 1 teaspoon oil. When hot, add the beef and let it rest against the wok to get a good sear, about 30 seconds. Stir-fry quickly until cooked through, but not overcooked, 60 to 90 seconds more.
- In 5 large, wide bowls, place a small handful of lettuce and other leaves and divide the noodles among the bowls.
- Ladle about 1/2 cup hot broth into each bowl and then divide the bean sprouts among the bowls. Pile beef pieces on top and drizzle in any juice from the wok.
- Sprinkle over some cilantro and mint leaves and then top with a heaped tablespoon each of crushed peanuts and fried shallots.
- Serve immediately, passing fish sauce and soy sauce on the side for those who want a little more saltiness along with the kumquats, if using, chiles, chili sauce, and extra herbs in bowls on the side for diners to add as they wish.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I love Vietnamese food, which is why I was drawn to make this soup. Bun bo is one of my favorites to order. The marinade for the meat was flavorful and very good. I also liked the idea of using chopped peanuts as a garnish, which I don’t usually see as a condiment in Vietnamese soup.
The flavor of the broth was still very delicious although I was expecting the recipe to have the spiciness and lemongrass flavor to which I’m accustomed. I would probably add in the additional pho aromatics, such as coriander and cinnamon stick. The broth could have used maybe some fish sauce.
I used low-sodium soy sauce and Thai basil, cilantro, Vietnamese mint, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, key lime, Sriracha, sambal chili, hoisin, and lime.
This bun bo recipe turned out a fantastic lunch for me and three friends. I already had homemade beef stock on hand so I simmered a quart along with the star anise, onion and ginger for about an hour. The marinade for the steak was just heavenly. The aroma made my mouth water! While the stock was simmering and the meat marinating I prepped the rest of the ingredients.
I used my wok to fry the sliced shallots that I simply dredged in flour. Then I wilted the bean sprouts and cooked the steak. My friends arrived while I was cooking the meat and they were beside themselves with the delicious smells going on. They all jumped in to help plate the toppings, which included roasted peanuts, cilantro, steamed snow peas, lime wedges, fried shallots, red and green hot peppers, and Sriracha sauce. We were all so excited to try this dish. All the chatter quickly turned to slurping, which was a sure sign this bowl of goodness was enjoyed by all. All the different flavors and textures made for a phenomenal experience.
I boiled the rice noodles for about 2 minutes. I used Red Boat fish sauce in the marinade and Thai basil leaves and watercress in the bowl. I got 4 hearty servings.
I have always loved pho and this soup is quite similar so I was excited to see it on the testing list. The secret to excellent pho is the broth and bun bo is no different—fragrant and intensely flavoured with lemongrass and ginger, it is what the dish is known for. I first boiled off the impurities from the bones, then added the aromatics and 4 litres of water. After 3 hours, I ended up with nearly 1.5 litres of broth and froze the rest for future use.
After marinating the beef, I added it to the hot wok, letting it sear for 30 seconds, before cooking for another minute. I left the thinly sliced meat rare in the middle in order to finish cooking in the hot broth. I served it by piling the cooked rice noodles in a bowl, topping them with beef, and adding the hot broth right before serving. The bun bo was served with Thai basil, cilantro, mint, extra tamari, sliced lime, bean sprouts, and chili sauce.
I was quite pleased with the results; once the broth is made, everything else comes together very quickly. The amount of broth the recipe yields is more than enough to freeze for the next time.
I love absolutely anything Asian, especially Vietnamese. The beef was absolutely delicious. The aroma of the lemongrass once I started searing the beef was OMG amazing. Had my mouth watering. This dish however needed some touching up after it was served. There is no salt anywhere in this dish besides 1 1/2 T of soy sauce and the 2 T of fish sauce that the beef marinated in. The flavor was delicious but once we tweaked the served dishes, with added soy, couple of dashes of fish sauce it was even better.
I used watercress, cilantro, and Thai basil for my shredded greens. For the vermicelli noodles, my package directions said to bring the water to a boil, cook them for 3 minutes, drain, and serve in a soup or stir-fry. I also added Sriracha and sliced chiles to my bowl for a kick of heat.
A warm bowl of beef, noodles and broth and an array of fun toppings was the perfect way to kick off our weekend last night. Some of us loaded up on chili sauce while others piled their dishes with fresh mint, cilantro, basil, and lots of lime juice.
When making the broth, I used the Vietnamese approach and boiled the bones, rinsed them and then proceeded with the recipe. I ended up with 3 cups of broth. I cooked the broth for a little over three hours, strained it, and then adjusted the seasonings a bit more. I felt the broth needed more brightness so I added the juice of 1 lime and 1 tbs. of miso paste that I dissolved in a little hot water. I also added 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce. I found these additions gave the broth more depth of flavor.
The noodles I purchased required that they be cooked in boiling water. We used low-sodium soy sauce. Toppings we used include LC’s fried shallots (so good!), lime juice, crushed roasted and salted peanuts, chiles, chili sauce, cilantro, mint, and basil.
Originally published February 03, 2021