When people think of Vietnamese noodles, pho and bun bo Hue (Vietnamese Spicy beef and pork noodles) are those that usually come to mind. However, in Vietnam, we have many other noodle dishes, one of which is bun thang (another one is Fried fish noodle soup). Bun thang (Hanoi vermicelli noodle soup with chicken, egg, and pork) is one of the traditional dishes which represent the elegance of Hanoi cuisine. It is delicious with beautiful presentation. However, I have never seen it in any Vietnamese restaurants in either the U.K. or the U.S. The good news is cooking it at home is pretty easy.
What is “bun thang” noodle soup
Bun thang consists of rice vermicelli noodles, a broth made from chicken, dried shrimps and dried shitake mushrooms, and a number of toppings including shredded chicken, thin pork sausage (gio lua) strips, thin strips of egg crepes, shrimp floss and aromatic herbs. Vietnamese people created this noodle soup to eat after Tet holiday (Lunar New Year) to use up all the leftover foods.
We are not sure where the name of this colorful noodle soup came from. Some said the word “thang” implies Chinese medicine which contains a variety of dried herbs, just like how this dish has a lot of ingredients. Others said “thang” simply means “soup” so its name means a noodle dish with soup. The only thing I’m sure about is it tastes sophisticated and delicious.
The clear and flavorful broth is the soul of this dish. It is made by simmering chicken, dried shrimp, and dried shiitake mushrooms.
You can find both dried shrimps and dried mushrooms at Asian grocery stores. Dried shrimps are frequently used in Vietnam to add flavors to stock/broth. Those three ingredients create a broth with so many layers of flavors: light, savory and sweet. I can’t find a word to describe; it’s just sophisticated and comforting.
Bun thang contains toppings with different flavors and texture, which makes the dish interesting and fun to eat. I think all the toppings are equally important, but if I had to pick, the shrimp floss would be the most important one. My grocery store had black tiger shrimps on sale today for $9.99 per pound which is a great deal. I poached them just until they were cooked through and chopped them roughly in my food chopper. Then I toasted the shrimp pieces in a non-stick pan so that they lost moisture, and firmed up. Their flavor concentrated and intensified. Making the shrimp floss made my kitchen smell amazing.
I wasn’t born in Hanoi so when I was small, I only ate bun thang once in a while when my family went there to visit my uncle’s family. When I studied in London five years ago, my housemate and I cooked this dish almost every weekend. Yes, it is that delicious. This colorful and unique noodle soup really deserves more attention. I hope to see it becoming well-known abroad, just like Vietnamese pho noodle soup and bun bo Hue.
- 1 3 - 4 lbs chicken
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 4 tablespoon dried shrimps
- 1 2'' piece of ginger
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 6 oz shrimp
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup thin strips of Vietnamese pork sausage
- Dried rice noodles (my favorite is the medium thickness rice noodles from Three Ladies brand)
- Scallions, roughly chopped
- Cilantro, roughly chopped
- Mint, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste
- Bring a pot of water to a boil then turn off the burner. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, vinegar and chicken to the pot. Let the chicken sit in there for a couple of minutes. This step helps eliminating the poultry smell and reducing the amount of foam in step 5.
- Cover dried shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimps in hot water to rehydrate them. After 2 - 3 minutes, discard the water.
- Trim off the top and bottom of the onion, peel off its skin. Also wash the small piece of ginger.
- Remove the chicken from the blanching liquid. Discard the liquid and wash the pot. Add chicken back to the pot, and also add dried shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimps, onion, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce.
- Pour about 8.5 cups of water (2 liters of water) to the pot. Turn on the burner and bring it to a boil. You need to constantly skim off the foam. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and let it simmer. When the chicken is fully cooked, transfer it to an ice bath. The amount of time to cook the chicken depends on its size. I used a cut-up chicken so it only took about 15 minutes.
- Taste the broth and adjust with salt or fish sauce as needed. Continue to let it simmer.
- Prepare the shrimp floss when the chicken is being cooked. Peel and poach the shrimps until just cooked through. Put the cooked shrimps in the food chopper and chop roughly into small pieces (see image below). You can certainly chop them into smaller pieces than mine, but remember they will shrink when we toast them.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat, add a little oil and shrimp pieces. Toast, stir frequently until all water content evaporates (about 5 minutes), add 1/4 teaspoon of fish sauce, stir well and transfer to a bowl.
- Slice the Vietnamese pork sausage into thin slices and then cut into thin strips.
- When chicken is fully cooked, transfer it to an ice bath to stop it from further cooking. When it has cooled down, remove it from the ice bath and shred the meat. Put the chicken bones back to the simmering broth.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Beat well. Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat, lightly grease with oil and pour just enough egg mixture to create a thin layer. I can make 2 egg crepes from 3 eggs. Remove from the pan to a cutting board. After all the egg crepes are made, roll them and slice thinly (see image below).
- Prepare dried rice vermicelli noodles according to instructions on the package.
- Fill a bowl with rice vermicelli noodles, then add all the toppings and chopped herbs. Arrange the toppings as in the image below.
- Taste the broth again and adjust seasoning if needed. Ladle the hot soup over the noodles. If you can eat fermented shrimp paste (this paste is flavorful but very strong and pungent), you can add a very small amount of it to your noodle bowl.
- Congratulations, you have successfully made a delicious bowl of bun thang!