I've built something of a reputation for being obsessed with pho. I mean, I'm sure I've earned it, considering my blood type is pho broth. And it's true, I eat more than my share of Vietnam's national dish, but believe it or not, it's not the only Vietnamese soup I eat. At least once every couple of weeks, I also enjoy a soup that is lesser known than pho, but just as good, in different ways.
Bun bo Hue doesn't get nearly as much love as pho, and when it does get attention, it is often referred to as "spicy pho" or something similar. That's not fair. The two soups are completely different, and bun bo Hue is not a pho spinoff or variation. The blogger at Wandering Chopsticks, who is particularly unamused by the confusion, breaks down all of the differences. For starters, they're from different regions--pho has its origins in Hanoi in northern Vietnam, while bun bo Hue gets its name from Hue, the central Vietnamese city in which it was conceived. Pho broth (at least, the more popular beef version) is made with beef bones, while bun bo hue comes from beef and pork bones. More importantly, the spice combinations are completely distinct, with pho deriving its signature flavor from such spices as star anise, cloves, and cinnamon, while bun bo Hue is extremely lemongrass-heavy. Not to mention the bold spiciness that makes a traditional bowl of bun bo Hue something that will clear your sinuses in a hurry. Pho is seasoned with fish sauce, bun bo Hue uses fermented shrimp paste. Even the noodles are different; pho utilizes banh pho, or a flat rice noodle, while bun bo Hue uses (surprise, surprise) bun, a round, thick rice noodle. As the blogger notes (and they have a point), we don't confuse fettuccine Alfredo and spaghetti just because they both contain pasta.
Behold, bun bo Hue, maybe pho's redheaded cousin, but a delicious soup in its own right:
I also love the different proteins that are used in bun bo Hue. The typical bowl includes beef shank, pork trotter, and cha lua, or Vietnamese steamed pork loaf (and possibly my favorite Vietnamese food). I'm told this isn't traditional, but most restaurants--this one included--now also include congealed pig blood in the broth. Yes, really. I first tried pig blood when the BF's mom tricked me into it--she put some on a spoon and told me to try it and tell her what I thought it was, and then she had a good laugh. Well the joke was on her, because I liked it, and now I happily eat it with my bun bo Hue.