For Hue people, “Bún Bò” (Hue-style beef vermicelli soup), which plays an important part in creating the unique central Vietnamese food scene, is not only a traditional dish of the ancient capital but also a contributing factor to Hue lifestyle.
If you are a fan of the culinary style as well as the culture of the Central region, you are probably familiar with the dish “Bún bò Huế” (Hue-style beef vermicelli soup). “Bún bò” – an outstanding and typical “representative” of Hue cuisine – indicates all the ups and downs of history as well as the delicate essence of this ancient land’s culinary art.
The origin of “Bún bò Huế”
The familiar image of a typical street vendor selling “Bún bò” (Source: Google)
According to legend, the ancestor of noodle making in Van Cu is called “Ms. Bún”. Following the footstep of Tien Nguyen Hoang Lord to the South, there was a group of people who settled in the remaining ruins of ancient Cham Towers. This place is then named Co Thap Village, Huong Dien District.
Among these early inhabitants, there was a beautiful young woman who is favored by many people. While other villagers made their living through agriculture, she devoted her life to the noodle making business. Therefore, Ms. Bún was loved by many because of her bravery but also received hatred from jealousy ones.
When the village had three consecutive years of crop failure, the bad guys spread the rumor that Ms. Bún was responsible for using rice – the pearl of the sky – to soak, rub and grind to make vermicelli. This disrespect behavior made the God angry and punished the whole village. All the narrow-minded villagers held a meeting and ordered Ms. Bún whether to give up making noodles or being expulsed from the village. She insisted living with her passion and decided to leave.
Due to her gentle and kind nature, Ms. Bún was allowed to choose her own direction and five most strong men of the village were ordered to follow and protect her on the way. Each man in turn would carry her vermicelli millstone until feeling exhausted. The group of people continued their journey on the direction of the Bo River without resting. The place where the fifth man fell with the millstone on his shoulders was Van Cu Village at the present.
Right at this place, Ms. Bún set up her career and passed down the noodle making business to younger generations through the ups and downs of the country.
It is often compared that “soft as vermicelli” but the toughness, resilience and durability of Ms. Bún overcoming difficulties to bring the vermicelli to Hue has contributed greatly to the reputation of “Bún Bò” – an excellent example of Central Vietnamese food.
The cultural factors of “Bún bò Huế”
A plentiful bowl of “Hue-style beef vermicelli soup” (Source: Google)
A generous bowl of “Hue-style beef vermicelli soup” is a familiar expression of Hue culture because this dish brings a “revolution” in the traditional cooking style by putting two contrasting ingredients – beef and pork meat – in one bowl and creating a wonderful harmony out of it. Moreover, Hue people use lemongrass to season the beef instead of five-spice powder like in the North of Vietnam or China.
Besides, there was no sight of dishes made from beef in the feasts of Nguyen Dynasty and the same thing happened in traditional meals from ancient Central to North regions. Not until the widespread introduction of Western culture that brings this type of protein closer to Vietnamese people has the beef become a favorable ingredient in Vietnamese cooking style.
Hence, there still exists questions and wonders about the true origin of “Bún bò Huế” and its main ingredient is beef or pork meat. However, no matter what the dish is called, “Bún Bò” remains an impressive highlight of the ancient capital’s cuisine.
The process of making “Bún Bò Huế”
A hearty bowl full-of-energy to boost your morning (Source: Google)
Although food lovers can now enjoy a steaming bowl of “Bún bò Huế” in every corner throughout the country, from simple food stalls to luxurious restaurants, there is always a special attraction to visit its “birthplace” and taste the original dish made from Hue people.
Even though the formation of “Bún bò” is hard to trace back and the controversial argument about whether beef or pork is the major element is still in debate, the traditional recipe from the original Hue citizens “puts faith” in the beef. Other ingredients such as pork meat, sausages and fermented pork roll were added later to meet the demands of the customers and eating habits of different regions.
In order to produce a delicious and standard bowl of “Bún bò Huế”, the key factors lie in the broth and vermicelli. In terms of the broth, the general standard consists of the sweet and delicate flavor derived from well-brewed meat bones and/or beef bones.
In addition, an appealing bowl of “Bún bò Huế” also depends on the vermicelli used. The vermicelli is well-chosen by the cook directly to ensure the appropriate size, color, and flexibility. The traditional “Bún bò Huế” is mostly favored by the secret of mixing two types of flour: rice flour and finest flour, making the vermicelli flexible and having a natural white color. Traditional spices, including salted shredded meat, lemongrass, chili, fresh herbs and pickle with a suitable amount, play a crucial part in completing and fulfilling the value of a simple but flavorful bowl of “Bún bò Huế”.
Hue people can eat beef vermicelli soup at any time of day but their long-lasting habit is considered this dish as a hearty meal full-of-energy to boost their morning. There is no difficulty in spotting some street food stalls selling this Hue specialty when you are taking a pleasant walk in the fresh morning air of the bashful ancient capital. All you need to do is sit on a small chair and having a friendly chat with the locals while waiting to savor the dish. All these images reflect the simple and bold lifestyle of the ancient Hue.
Another interesting aspect of “Bún bò Huế” of the ancient land is the way of seasoning that does not always remain the same. In the winter, makers often elevate the spicy and rich flavor to another level in order to assist eaters in standing against the wintry breezes of Hue.
Nowadays, whenever a foreign tourist visits the dreamlike and poetic Hue city of Vietnam and asks about local specialties, there is no doubt that “Bún bò Huế” is the first central Vietnamese food that comes to the mind of the repliers. This specialty is also honored to be recognized as one of the top 50 excellent dishes in Asia by the famous TV program CNN. The impressive and typical culinary beauty of “Bún bò Huế” is a fascinating combination of traditional cooking style, along with a rich and yet still elegant flavor.