Hu Tieu Bo Vien [Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Soup]

This is a delicious meal in a bowl noodle soup – like Bun Rieu et al it’s one of the group I call “Mesocosm Soups” as there’s a whole world in the bowl;  noodles, meats or seafood, vegetables, herbs, spices.  Incredibly yummy and rich with different layers of textures and flavours.  Pretty healthy too!Hu Tieu Bo Vien is another “anything goes” noodle soup but unlike many others it is more obviously carnivorous in nature and spicy; not as subtle or restrained.  There are actually two [at least] versions of Hu Tieu – Hu Tieu My Tho and Hu Tieu Bo Vien but in this recipe I combine the meatballs and raw beef of Hu Tieu Bo Vien with the loose mince mixture and raw beef of Hu Tieu My Tho [which also has a “surf and turf” element with the addition of large prawns].  You can mix and match as you wish.

The carnivorous “Beef Experience” nature of this noodle soup will strike the reader immediately – meatballs, mince mix AND raw steak?  Well, yes, but there isn’t a huge amount of any of these elements, but the combination is out of this world and thoroughly justified.  It’s delicious, hearty and healthy with rice noodles, vegetables and herbs, full of flavour and did I mention delicious?

You can serve sauce dishes of Nuoc Cham or Hoisin Sauce on the side, or even extra chopped chillies, lime juice and freshly ground black pepper for diners to help themselves, but I find there’s quite enough flavours going on.

[Recipe adapted fairly freely from Andrea Nguyen’s website Viet World Kitchen and her book Into The Vietnamese Kitchen, numerous entries and discussion from eGulleteers and Mai Pham’s Pleasures Of The Vietnamese Table.]

Serves 4.

 . . . . . . . . . .



1 litre chicken stock or pork stock  [I use a mix of my own strong chicken stock – I make up vast quantities and freeze in ice-cream containers for when The Need For Soup strikes – and a plain pork or beef stock made from whatever bones I can scrounge from the local butcher.]

5 cm piece of young ginger, peeled, cut into thick slices/chunks and bashed with the side of a cook’s knife/cleaver to release juices and extra flavour

. . . . . . . . . .

Pork Meatballs

500 g pork mince

1 heaped tbs finely chopped garlic [equivalent to eg, 4 cloves “normal” garlic, peeled and finely chopped; or one clove “jumbo” single clove garlic, ditto]

3 tbs Vietnamese fish sauce2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

. . . . . . . . . .

Pork Mince Mix

500 g pork mince

1 heaped tbs finely chopped garlic [equivalent to eg, 4 cloves “normal” garlic, peeled and finely chopped; or one clove “jumbo” single clove garlic, ditto]

2.5 cm piece young ginger, peeled and finely julienned into extra-fine matchsticks

2 red chillies, finely sliced on the diagonal, seeded if wished

5 spring onions, trimmed and the white part finely sliced on the diagonal

2 tbs Vietnamese fish sauce

2 tbs lime juice

1/2 tbs sugar [or more to balance the flavours]

. . . . . . . . . .

Assembly & Garnishes

1 piece scotch fillet steak, frozen for 5-10 minutes prior to prep/serving time to facilitate ultra-thin slicing

2 bundles [approx 250 g] rice noodles– fine vermicelli or flat thin pho noodles [I prefer rice vermicelli] soaked in hot water or preferred method until tender but still with bite

1/2 Chinese cabbage [wong bok] or similar amount of gai larn, finely shredded cross-wise

Couple handfuls of bean sprouts [tau geh], picked over

Sprigs of Thai/Vietnamese basil or mint

. . . . . . . . . .



Heat stock with chunks of ginger.  If your home-made stock is not strong enough you could add a couple of good quality stock cubes.  I use Massell Stock Cubes, which come in Chicken- Beef- and Vegetable-Flavour which are excellent quality with the additional benefit of being gluten-free, lactose free, etc. 

No additional aromatics or spice pastes are required as the mince mixture, once stirred through the soup at serving, gives plenty of zing!


Whizz the pork mince and garlic, fish sauce, and black pepper in a food processor/grinder attachment until smooth and pasty.  Form mixture into small balls – about 2 heaped tsp worth – being sure not to overwork them as that will toughen the meatballs.  A gentle squeeze-roll into shape is quite adequate.

In a small saucepan bring a few ladlefuls of stock or water to a boil and drop in the meatballs one by one.  Don’t put them all in at once  – two or three “batches” will do the job!  Do not allow the broth/water to go above a gentle boil.  The meatballs will bob to the surface once cooked.  Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to the side.  Continue with the rest of the balls and allow to cool. [NB: You will have extra over; I freeze these in ziplock bags for another time]

Mince mixture

Heat a couple tablespoons of canola or peanut oil in a wok.  Add garlic, ginger, chillies and stir over medium-high heat – do not let the garlic burn.

Add the mince and stir fry continuously until combined with the garlic et al and browned.  Add the spring onions,  fish sauce and lime juice, sugar and black pepper.  Stir fry a couple of minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if required.  You want a fairly dry meat sauce but add a little broth if it’s getting too dry.  Take off heat when ready and set aside; it will stay warm enough in it’s own heat but if for instance you are preparing the separate elements the day before then heat gently before assembly.

To assemble

Arrange the shredded wong bok or gai larn on a plate, with the bean sprouts and basil sprigs [and additional small saucers of sliced chillies, lime quarters and black pepper if using.]

Take the scotch fillet out of the freezer and using an ultra-sharp cook’s knife [I adore my Wusthof Classic Santoku with the hollow ground edge, *siiiiiigh*] slice into traslucent paper-thin strips – or at least as thin as you can manage!  You’ll find that having slightly frozen the steak will make this so much easier.  Heap onto a small plate.

Cook the noodles, drain and serve into bowls.  Arrange about five meatballs and a couple tablespoons of mince mixture on top.  Scatter a few shreds of wong bok or gai larn over the noodles too.  Place several strips of raw beef over the noodles.  Bring the broth to a rolling boil.  As quickly as possible, ladle a few scoops of broth over the noodles – the beef will change colour straight away.

Take bowls to the table immediately and encourage diners to add a little wong bok, bean sprouts and shreds of basil as they eat.  Do not put loads of vegetables and herbs into the soup straight away as this will lower the temperature too much and make the dish lukewarm and uninteresting.  The now-slightly-cooked raw beef will taste surprisingly buttery and oh so delicious, the meatballs and mince mixture add interesting texture and delightful flavours.  YUM.

Directions for eating:  chopsticks in right hand; large soup spoon in left; slurp.

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  • By Recipe Index « OTTERKAT on Sunday 29 June 2008 at 5:44 pm

    […] Hu Tieu Bo Vien   [Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Soup] […]

  • By Recipe Index « OTTERKAT on Tuesday 11 October 2011 at 11:24 am

    […] Hu Tieu Bo Vien   [Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Soup] […]

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