spicy beef noodle soup – vietnamese style

Think beefy broth. A hint of lemongrass. Beef. Star anise. Rice noodles. And some bun bo Hue spice to fire it all up. That’s what this beef Vietnamese inspired noodle soup is all about.

I love Vietnamese noodle soups. I’m actually crazy for them. Seriously. I have a problem. If you are like me, I’m guessing this is one you’ll like. A lot.

It’s not a famous dish. Not even a dish really. Just something I came up with to get my fix of noodle soup. I wasn’t planning to write it down. But once I tasted it, I had to do it. So I would remember to make it again. And again. And again.

Beef noodle soup all about the broth

It starts with the broth. It always starts with the broth. It’s a riff on pho. But faster. Easier.

Beef ribs. That’s the secret to this broth. Meaty beef ribs. The ones that come with a prime rib roast. You can get them at your butcher. Anywhere that sells rib eye steaks really. A rib eye is just prime rib without the ribs. Sliced into steaks.

Talk to your butcher. Beef ribs are usually pretty cheap. Offer to pay a little extra for meaty ones though. Some places trim close to the bone. That won’t work as well.

Or use the ribs leftover from a prime rib roast. That’s what I did the first time I made this. A little leftover beef. The ribs. Beef noodle soup magic from leftovers.

If you buy beef ribs the key is to roast them off. Not for long. Maybe 30-40 minutes. You want good browning. It’s amazing how big a difference roasting the ribs makes. Brown is better.

You don’t want to render all the fat though. Some of that luscious beef fat needs to go into the soup. Don’t worry though. You’ll tweak the fat content along the way…

Spicy beef noodle soup in a bowl with chopsticks from the front.

This is really simplified bun bo Hue

Never heard of bun bo Hue? Too bad. It’s the other Vietnamese noodle soup. Pho’s spicy cousin. Not as famous. Not yet. It will come. It’s crazy delicious stuff.

Next time you’re out for Vietnamese, try it. If you like a little bit spicy it’s a great way to mix things up. Could become your new go to beef noodle soup. It’s hard to beat a good bowl of pho. But bun bo Hue gives it a run for its money.

The spicing in this soup is not far off bun bo Hue. I found this stuff called gia vi bun bo Hue spice mix while poking around my local Vietnamese grocer. Cost a dollar. Not worth trying to make it for that price.

If you do want to make it, the ingredients are paprika, chili, onion, ginger and garlic. The order of ingredients is most to least if you want to try. I haven’t tried replicating it yet myself. Did I mention it costs a dollar?

Before you beat me up for this remember I said it was an easier version. Simplified. No shrimp paste. No pork broth. Or cha hue. But no prefab soup base either.

Perfect noodles makes perfect beef noodle soup

You need to be careful with rice noodles. It’s easy to overcook them. Overcooked noodles are mushy noodles. Mushy noodles make bad beef noodle soup.

No matter how good everything else is, everyone will remember the noodles. Sad. But true.

There’s an easy way to get them right every time. Soak your rice noodles in cold water for about 30 minutes. That softens them up.

Then drop them in boiling water for somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute. Test them along the way. As soon as they are soft but still toothy pull them. Run them under cold water.

They will cook a little more in the broth. That’s why you want them still a bit toothy when you serve the soup. Cook them completely they and they will turn to mush once the broth hits them.

It’s an easy trick but an important one.

Table scene of spicy beef noodle soup, spoon and hoisin sriracha dipping bowl.

Put it all together

Once you have the broth done it’s a snap to serve this beef noodle soup. Put a good handful of noodles in each bowl. Add in meat from the braised bones. Top with some sliced beef. A few thin slices of shallot. Some green onion.

Pour the broth overtop and garnish with culantro (not a typo), cilantro and Thai basil. A bit of hoisin and sriracha on the side makes a great dip for the beef.

Then sit down and dig into a big, steaming bowl of delicious.

Bowl of spicy beef noodle soup from above.
Print Pin
5 from 6 votes

spicy beef noodle soup

Vietnamese inspired beef noodle soup.
Course Main
Cuisine Vietnamese
Keyword bun bo hue, vietnamese beef noodle soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Servings 2
Calories 731kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


The broth

  • 3 lbs meaty beef ribs About 4 good sized ribs.
  • 6 cups chicken stock no sodium
  • 2 stalks lemongrass well-bruised
  • 1-2 large shallots
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp gia vi bun bo Hue spice mix from your Asian grocer (or see in the text above for ingredients). You likely won't need all of it.
  • 2 tbsp reserved beef fat skimmed from the broth
  • salt to taste creep up on it. Probably somewhere between 1/2-1 tsp total.

Spicy beef noodle soup

  • 6 oz rice noodles
  • 6 oz sirloin Chinese fondue beef. Leftover prime rib is good here too.
  • 6 oz reserved rib meat if you choose to use it.
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced
  • 1 green onion thinly sliced
  • culantro, basil, cilantro, red chili slices and bean sprouts to garnish
  • lime, hoisin and sriracha to serve


Make the broth

  • Roast the beef ribs in a 325 degree oven for around 30-40 minutes. You want them to brown up a bit.
  • Bruise the lemongrass. Cut it in half and whack it repeatedly with the dull side of a big knife until it starts to break open.
  • Combine the roasted ribs (or leftover ribs from a rib roast), lemongrass, chicken stock, star anise, black cardamom, shallots and fish sauce in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook until the beef separates easily from the bone. This takes 90-120 minutes or so.
  • This next step is optional. If you like the textured bits in pho (like tendon) then go for it. If you prefer just sliced beef then leave the meat on the bones and continue simmering. Your broth will be beefier for it.
  • Remove the ribs from the pot. Let cool slightly. While you are at it remove everything except the shallots from the pot.
    Once the ribs have cooled enough to handle remove the meat and refrigerate. Return the stripped beef bones to the pot and continue simmering for a total of 4 hours. If your beef took 2 hours to get tender simmer for another 2 hours.
    Or, if you don't want the more interesting bits then just skip this step. Leave the beef on the bones but do remove the lemongrass, star anise and cardamom.
  • After 4 hours, remove the beef bones. Strain. Add enough water or stock to bring the total volume back to 6 cups. Refrigerate briefly. You want the fat to set up. There's too much at this point. Once the stock is chilled skim off the fat. Keep it handy though. Don't throw it away.
  • Return the skimmed stock to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust for salt.
  • Add three tablespoons of fat to a small sauce pan or frying pan. Heat over medium low heat. It will sputter for a bit as the water boils off. You should have enough fat. If you don't make up the difference with vegetable oil.
  • Add the bun bo Hue spice to the pan. Stir to coat the spices in oil and fry gently for about 30 seconds. Let this cool briefly and add about a tablespoon of the spice/fat mixture to the broth. Be careful. Hot fat into stock can bubble a bit. Taste and decide if it's spicy enough. If not, add a bit more and taste again. Once you have the salt and spice right your broth is done. Keep warm.

Prep the rice noodles

  • Soak the noodles in cool water for 30 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a brisk boil. A pasta pot works really well here. The type with the built in colander.
  • Add the pre-soaked noodles to the boiling water. Stir.
  • Start checking the noodles after around 30 seconds. You want them a little bit toothy. This can take a minute or so.
  • Remove the noodles from the hot water. Rinse with cold water. Keep the hot water handy.

Assemble the soup

  • Bring the broth back to a lively simmer.
  • Put the noodles back into the hot cooking water to warm through. This takes under 30 seconds if the water is still hot.
  • Divide the noodles into two bowls. Add the beef, green onions, shallots and red chili slices. Pour half the piping hot broth into each bowl.
  • Mix equal portions of hoisin and sriracha in a small bowl. Garnish with herbs and bean sprouts. Season with lime. Dip your beef into the hoisin/sriracha mixture for a little extra flavour. Enjoy.


Serving: 2g | Calories: 731kcal | Carbohydrates: 89g | Protein: 54g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 102mg | Sodium: 1889mg | Potassium: 1473mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 60IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 92mg | Iron: 7mg

6 thoughts on “spicy beef noodle soup – vietnamese style”

  1. i like the roasted rib bones tip. i might try that in my next version.

    if you want to make this dish really money try these small tweaks.

    for the broth add a thin slice of pineapple during the simmer. gives the soup a kind of fragrance, a that sorta balances the saltiness of the broth and the richness of the beef. don’t put too much though. my original attempt i put about a quartered slice of a whole pineapple. later versions i’d put 1/8 or 1/16. you just want a hint of the pineapple. you don’t want it to be fruity or too acidic.

    bun bo hue doesn’t use the pho noodle, which is flat. it uses instead a slightly thicker, round noodle. apart from the difference in taste from pho, it also gives it a different texture. a rounder noodle for a heartier, spicier broth.

    what’s interesting though is that the version of bun bo hue most people are familiar with is actually the southern vietnamese version. bun bo hue comes from the middle of vietnam, from the former imperial capital city, Hue. a general rule of thumb is the more north you go, the more minimal the spices and condiments. and vice versa the more south you go, the dishes have a lot more fragrant spices. i’ve yet to try the authentic Hue version. watch youtube for bun bo hue in Hue city. looks very different. one day i’ll sample it!

    • Thanks very much for the tips. This isn’t meant to be the full blown bun bo hue (which is one of my absolute favourite Vietnamese dishes) – more of a simplified version. I will try the pineapple trick next time. Those round noodles are my chopstick Waterloo. I absolutely cannot get through a bowl without dropping some and splashing my shirt. Small price to pay for such a great bowl though!

5 from 6 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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