Weekend Cooking Challenge – Vietnamese Crab Cake Soup – Bún riêu – Southern Style (Easy and Suitable for Faraway-from-Vietnam Folks)

Cooking Diary – Log 5 – 15.05.2012

I did not write anything during the last 2 days. 🙂 I need a break from everything, just to get myself together.

So now, here I am again, writing.

The day before yesterday is Sunday, and I always cook something special for the weekend.

So, this week first post will feature another Vietnamese dish. 🙂 But this is a more complicated dish; it does take time and require special ingredients, but totally worth it. So enjoy, Vietnamese Crab Cake Soup – Bún riêu!

This specialty is a freshwater crabs flavor this tangy tomato soup that is serve with round rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat, deep-fried tofu and, often, congealed blood. A Vietnamese purple shrimp paste is also served on the side. Caution: It smell awful to strangers but don’t be afraid — it tastes delicious and it is also the soul of this dish.

There is actually 2 ways to make Bún riêu: The Southern (a.k.a Easy) style and the Northern (a.k.a More complicated) style.

I will demonstrate the easy/Southern style here today due to lack of a special main ingredient. But I will also describe the Northern style which my grandmother usually cooks for us back in Vietnam, with the hope that if you have this ingredient and try it yourself.

Let’s begin! My version of Vietnamese Southern style Bún riêu.

Vietnamese Bun Rieu



(For 4 servings)

Ingredients needed

Soup Broth

  • About 250g pork rib bones + 1.5l water to make broth (If rib bones are not available, chicken bones are fine. Also, if you are in a hurry, substitute this by store-bought chicken broth)
  • ½ bulb of onion
  • (Optional: dried squid or shrimp)
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 200g golden-fried tofu cubes of 3x3cm
  • 200g congealed pig blood cubes of 3x3cm (also optional, I could not find this rare ingredient in Finland either, but it does taste great)

Crab cakes

  • 1 can of shrimp/crab paste, about 200g. (You will find it in the supermarket or Asian market in town. Ask for this special paste to make “ Bún riêu “. It’s on the label too.)
  • 200g minced pork
  • ½ bulb of onion, or 2 bulbs of shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp of “Mam tom”, special purple shrimp paste
  • 1 tbsp. of fish sauce
  • 1tbsp. sugar
  • ½ sp. salt
  • ½ tsp. grounded black pepper

Here is a close up picture of my crab paste and purple shrimp paste brand:

Brands I used

Here is how they look inside:

How they look inside

Boiled vermicelli

  • 300g of dried Vietnamese Rice vermicelli + 1.5l water


  • Chopped spring onion/scallion
  • Deep fried dried onion
  • Fresh salad and herbs such as: Thai Basil, Shiso leaves, Vietnamese balm, fish mint, finely stripped Banana flower and freshwater Convolvulus, bean sprouts, etc. (I don’t have anything in this list, here in Finland, so I just use iceberg cabbage. :P)

Tamarind sauce

  • 1/4 cup of tamarind paste/meat
  • 3/4 cup of boiling water



To prepare the soup

Step 1: Put the rib bones and onion bulb into a 3-liter pot together with 1.5l cool water.

Prepare pork broth

Turn the heat to high until it starts boiling. You can see all the dirt in the bones will congeal onto the surface.

The water start to boil and here is how it looked like with the floating dirt

Step 2: Now that the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to low. Use a big spoon to get all the bubbly floating dirt out. Be gentle because they are very fragile and easy to be brought back into the water, make the broth not transparent, meaning less attractive, Vietnamese sense.

Step 3: This step is totally optional, but it will definitely increase the flavor of your broth. So if you have dried squids or shrimps, like this, in hands, put in a couple of them like 6-9 shrimps and 2 small slices of dried squids. However, you don’t want to overuse them as they have very strong aroma and will destroy the overall balance of the broth.

Optional ingredients for Broth (Dried shrimps, squids, and cabbage root)

Step 4: Let the pot, with no lit; sit on the low heated stove for 3 hours. (You can use a slow cooker for economic purposes) Every now and then, check for the dirt floating on the surface and get them out. Also, pay attention to the water level; add more water if you see it evaporates too much.

While waiting for the broth, you should prepare the crab cakes mixture, the boiled vermicelli, and the tamarind sauce as instructed below.

Step 5: After 3 hours you will have a broth looking like this, hopefully. 🙂

Broth for Bun Rieu

Now get the rib bones out. Set aside.

Leave rib bones aside

Step 6: Slice tomatoes in to about 6 parts per fruit. Then put into the pot the tomatoes, fried tofu cubes, and boiled blood cubes. Keep them at medium low heat. We don’t want it to boil rapidly into big bubbles on the surface, but just hot enough to keep the soup shimmering in the pot for another 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes and tofu

You have just made the soup. YAY! Half way there!

To prepare the Crab cakes

They are the best parts of “ Bún riêu“, the egg-like thing that floats on the surface of the soup. We call it “Riêu “, half of the soul in this dish.

As I said, there are 2 ways to make this. Her is the easy, modern, time- friendly way. I make this dish this way since there is no fresh crab here in Finland.

Step 7: Mix well all of the ingredients for crab cakes above in a bowl.

Mix them all in

Cover with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge, and wait for the soup to be ready. (Step 6)

Crab Cake Mixture

Step 8: In the finished shimmering soup pot above, continue after step 6, using a spoon to scoop this mixture in.

Scoop the Crab Cake mixture into hot simmering soup

Step 9: Make a small whisk on the bottom of the pot to make sure the mixture does not stay underneath and get burn. Turn the heat to medium high.

Step 10: Wait 7 minutes. You will see that the egg shrimp paste mixture will start to float onto the surface of the soup. Turn down the heat to make sure it does not reach the boiling point. Otherwise, those fragile egg things will be parted into super small pieces, which is not very eye – catching.

Finish Soup

Step 11:  Taste the soup. Add more salt, fish sauce, and sugar to your taste.

To prepare the boiled vermicelli

Package of Dried Vermicelli

Step 12: Boil the water, then put the dried noddle in, and cook as instructed in the package, for 5 to 7 minutes, after that, strain them and let cool.

Boiled Vermicelli

To prepare the Tamarind sauce

Step 13: Put the tamarind paste in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water all over it.

Now stir gently to dissolve the meat of the tamarind fruit into the water. After 3 minutes, you will have a thick mixture

Tamarind Paste

. Set aside until serving.

How to Serve Bún riêu

Step 14:Arrange all the herbs and salad on a plate.

Step 15: In a serving bowl, put 1/4 of the boiled vermicelli in, now on top of that, arrange some cooked tomato slices, rib bones, and boiled blood cubes around, centered by crab cakes. Garnish by chopped scallion and fried dried onion. Pour the hot soup into the bowl.

Voila, you just make “Bún riêu “.

Vietnamese Bun Rieu


How to enjoy Bún riêu

Put a handful of prepare salad and herbs into the hot soup; stir a little to blanch them a bit and to infuse the aroma of the herbs into the soup.

Now add 1 tbsp. of tamarind sauce and 1tsp. of Vietnamese purple paste into the soup, also, stir until dissolve.

And enjoy, with a spoon and chopsticks. 🙂

How was it?


Strange, isn’t it?


But yummy, Uhmm! Yes.

The tanginess of the purple paste, the strange smell from the sea, the sourness of the tamarind sauce, the sweetness of the crab cakes and the slow-cooked soup. All combined in this wonderful Vietnamese dish.

Vietnamese Bun Rieu

You have just made and enjoy one of the hardest-to-make Vietnamese soup. So congrats! I am so proud of you!


So now, as promised, I will also describe how my Grandma makes Bún riêu.

This is the original, time-consuming, better-taste way of making “Riêu” – the crab cake. Nowadays, not many places that make “Bun Rieu” like this, since it is much more expensive and super time – consuming. I just type it here for your information. Or you can dare to try it sometimes.


  • 500g to 1kg of fresh freshwater crabs. (Not the big blue sea crabs that are sold in the supermarket. But a very small muddy-color-and smell ones, biggest size about half of your hand, which is now quite not often sold, even in Vietnamese flea markets)

Freshwater Crabs for Bun Rieu (source: http://megafun.vn)

  • 1 tbsp. special purple shrimp paste.
  • Each pinch of salt, finely grounded black pepper, and sugar


1) The crabs need to be washed carefully by rinsing cold water many times since you don’t want to taste mud in your dish.

2) Open each crab to half horizontally. You will have a hard shell with yellowish paste on it, and you have the main body of the crab. Use a toothpick to take the yellowish part aside from the shell. Keep in a small bowl. Those are the most precious part of the crabs. Then only keep the main bodies. Discard the upper empty shells.

3) Super finely mince the crabs’ bodies with meat grinder machine until you have a paste-like muddy mixture, at the lower right corner in this pic. Mix in purple shrimp paste and spices.

Minced Crabs (source: http://vietbao.vn)

4) Mix in 1/3 of the chicken broth. Stir until finely mixed and the mixture get a bit thinner. Use a clean cloth over a big pot; pour the mixture through it to strain the shell – like parts of the crabs. By this way, the meat of the crabs is in the broth but not the shell. Put the shell like mixture into another 1/3 of the chicken broth. Repeat the same procedure to make sure that you will have all the meat of the crabs. Continue with the last 1/3. After this step, you should have a shell part of the craps, and a pot of chicken broth – crap meat mixture.

Rieu Broth (source: http://www.home.hagiangvui.org)

5) Pour that mixture in a large enough pot. Turn on medium high heat.

6) Make a small whisk on the bottom of the pot to make sure the mixture does not stay underneath and get burn.

7) Wait 10 to 15 minutes. You will see that the crap protein mixture will start to float onto the surface of the broth. Turn down the heat to make sure it does not reach the boiling point, just shimmering.

Pour into the pot the yellowish paste of the crabs, it will soon be cooked and float, too.

Original Crab Cake (source: http://vietbao.vn)

9) Use a big spoon to carefully move the floating crab protein onto a clean plate or bowl. Set aside.

Get the Crab Cake out (http://vietbao.vn)

This is how my Grandma makes her crab cakes.

Use the water left from making the crab cakes as broth for the soup. They are naturally sweet and flavorful. Follow the rest of the above instruction to make the soup.

Now, if you ever, ever make Bún riêu, I bow before you. Enjoy to the very last spoon, because you know you just make very delicious and very original Vietnamese dish. Be super proud of yourself, not many native Vietnamese home-make “ Bún riêu ” this way, either.

Original Bun Rieu Bowl (source: http://lanhvan.wordpress.com)

You can see that the color of crab cakes are more purple-ish than in my style. Also, they are more fragile and flavorful. Only the best~!


OK, this is quite a long (yes, again) recipe and instruction for making Vietnamese “ Bún Riêu“. Quite a challenge, isn’t it?

I will stop bombarding you here.

Good Luck. 🙂


8 thoughts on “Weekend Cooking Challenge – Vietnamese Crab Cake Soup – Bún riêu – Southern Style (Easy and Suitable for Faraway-from-Vietnam Folks)

  1. woww you make me hungry . It’s my favorite . . . I usually cook them once a month because my husband love to eat them . Especially in the winter , I will cook twice a month . Thanks for sharing your recipes


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