Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup Recipe
When I was five, my family lived in a small pre-war apartment in Hanoi. All I remember is that it was damp. The tropical climate brought so much rain, and water leaked from the ceiling to my bed all the time. Winter was rough. I got sick on quite a regular basis because of that. When I fell ill, my grandmother always cooked me a bowl of crab noodle soup (bún riêu cua) and it instantly cheered me up. I grew up thinking it was a magic cure to all of life’s problems. Although I know now that money is that magic cure, this dish still holds a special place in my heart.
Bún riêu cua is my grandmother’s famous specialty and also my favorite offering of Vietnamese cuisine. It is a rich blend of texture: the chewiness of the crabmeat, the softness of sautéed tomatoes, the crispiness of fried tofu, and the crunchiness of bean sprouts, all drenched in a “seafoody,” flavorful soup broth. It embraces maximalism in cooking, and while maximalism often takes a lot to succeed and little to fail, this dish is a prime example of when it works. The moment I set out to create Sieu in the Kitchen, this was no doubt the first dish I wanted to make.
In Vietnamese, we cook the crab noodle soup with the tiny crabs from rice paddy fields (cua đồng). That is not available in the U.S. (whenever I asked my mom to ship it over, she laughed it off; apparently that’s not allowed). I went with the next best alternative: a crab ball mixture of crab paste, ground pork, shrimp, and eggs. The taste and texture are quite close to the dish back home, so I still got the dose of nostalgia I badly needed.
- Food processor (if you don’t have it, a blender should be fine; or a really, really strong hand to mix stuff manually)
- Instant pot (if you don’t have one, you can totally cook the broth over the stove top, but it will take 2–3 hours instead of 30–45 minutes; you could binge watch Fresh Off The Boat in the meantime — highly recommend.)
INGREDIENTS (servings: 5)
- Crab paste: one jar (7 oz, can be found at Asian grocery stores)
- Ground pork: 1 lb
- Shrimp: 0.5 lb
- Egg: 1
- Pork bones: 1 lb
- Shrimp paste: 2 tbsp (can be found at Asian grocery stores)
- Firm tofu: one package (14oz)
- Silken tofu: one package (14oz)
- Tomatoes: 3
- Daikon: 1
- Bean sprouts: 8 oz
- Banana flowers: 8 oz (can be found at Asian grocery stores)
- Yellow onion: 1
- Green onion: 3
- Ginger: the size of a thumb is good
- Shallots: 4–5, (in my philosophy, the more shallot the better)
- Garlic: 4 cloves
- Dry vermicelli noodles (bún): one package (14 oz, can be found at Asian grocery stores)
- Wash the pork bones, shrimp and vegetables.
- Slice daikon into 5–6 pieces. Halve the yellow onion. Mince the garlic and shallots.
- Slice green onions into small pieces for garnish. Save the white part for the broth.
Step 1: Blanch the bones
- Add pork bones into a pot of salted boiling water. Let cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Remove any impurities that float to the top to make sure the bones are thoroughly cleansed.
- Rinse with cold water afterwards and put bones in the instant pot.
Step 2: Fry the tofu
- Cut the firm tofu into small cubes, and the silken tofu into bigger cubes, twice the size of the firm tofu. This is because the silken tofu will shrink after frying.
- Over medium heat, fry the tofu cubes until all sides are golden brown and crispy. Tip: Be extra careful when you flip the silken tofu because it’s super sensitive.
- Set aside.
Step 3: Cook the broth
- Place in the instant pot the chopped daikon, halved onion and ginger. Add 5 cups of water and salt.
- Turn on the “Soup/Broth” mode and cook for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Sauté tomatoes
- Slice each tomato into eight pieces. Tip: Make sure to take off the sticker because sometimes I left it on and that’s, well, not a good idea.
- Extract the oil from the crab paste jar and add into a frying pan. Tip: reuse the pan you fried the tofu in to avoid spending hours washing dishes.
- Over medium-high heat, add in minced garlic and shallots. Fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant and lightly brown.
- Add in the tomatoes and gently stir. Once they soften a bit, reduce heat to medium low and let cook for 10 minutes.
Step 5: Make crab balls
- In a big bowl, mix together the ground pork, crab paste, an egg, 3 tbsp fish sauce and some salt. Add in shrimp after the mixture is well-blended.
- Puree this mixture in a food processor in 3–4 batches, for about 10–15 seconds per batch.
Step 6: Make noodles
Cook dry vermicelli noodles in a pot of boiling water for 15–20 minutes. Add salt and some cooking oil so that they don’t stick. Once the noodles have turned white and softened, strain them through cold water and set aside.
Step 7: Cook the toppings.
- By this time, the broth in the instant pot should be done (if not, you’re a super fast human.) Remove the instant pot lid and turn on sauté mode.
- Add the sauté tomatoes, fried tofu and the white part of the green onions into the broth.
- Dilute 2 tbsp shrimp paste in a cup of water and pour into the instant pot
- Scoop the crab ball mixture with a big spoon (love a big spoon!) and gradually add into the instant pot. Mix altogether so the crab balls are cooked. Should take about 5–10 minutes.
- Add in 4–5 tbsp fish sauce and season to your liking.
Step 8: Serve/Finish/Give yourself a pat on the back!
Assemble your bowl with noodles, bean sprouts, banana flowers and green onions before pouring in the broth. Don’t forget to fill up your bowl with toppings: crispy tofu, tomatoes and crab balls!