Bun Rieu Cua Recipe (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)

Bun Rieu Cua Recipe (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup) Recipe

This soup, called bún riêu, is typical Vietnamese comfort food. It's paired with the usual Vietnamese aromatic herbs and topped with other vegetables and fried tofu for a complete meal.

Just thinking about this seafood dish makes my mouth water! Tomorrow, my cousin Tri and his wife Tran are coming over to greet us for the Lunar New Year. So I spent today making a delicious, though a tad time-consuming (but oh-so worth it) soup dish for them. Bún riêu cua is a briny crab rice noodle soup garnished with feathery-like crab cakes in tomato and fermented shrimp (called mắm tôm) broth. Once you're ready to serve, shredded lettuce and mint finish the dish for added crunch along with lime and a drizzle of nuoc mam. 

If you love crab, this dish is ideal for you. If not, you could always try the veggie version (bún riêu chay) I make for the rest of my family members who are vegetarian. Either way, what a great way to start the year!


Yields: 8 servings

10 cups Vietnamese chicken broth
2 whole fresh crabs
3 tablespoons dried shrimp (see tips)
2 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fermented shrimp sauce (mắm tôm)
2 teaspoons freshly grated palm sugar
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1-½ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or salt)
2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, quartered
1 pound tomatoes (the sweeter the better), cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 green onions, sliced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 cups combined Vietnamese herbs
8 cups shredded lettuce
6 small eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups deep-fried tofu, large cubes
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 packages round rice noodles, cooked
½ cup nước mắm (fish sauce), for drizzling
1 lime, freshly squeezed + extra for garnish


Prepping the crab:

Clean the crab, brush and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot, add about 1-½ to 2 cups of water and boil for about 10 minutes (see tips). Transfer to an ice water bath for about 3 minutes to stop the cooking process. Drain and discard all the liquid.

Remove and discard the abdominal flaps (the triangle-shaped tail). Lift and separate the back-fin with the rest of the claws by placing a large tablespoon at the bottom of the crabs. Remove and discard the "lungs" (also known as Devil's fingers; they have a spongy texture and are inedible).

Gently remove the crab meat from the back-fins (the inner chambers are filled with meat). Gently crack the claws using a meat tenderizer mallet and gather all the crab meat in a large mixing bowl.

Gather the coral inside the head of the crabs and set aside in a bowl.

Prepping the crab patties:

Soak the shrimp in hot water for about 1 hour. Drain the liquid. Reserve about 1 tablespoon and coarsely chop the rest.

In a mini food prep, grind the dried shrimp into a fine, moist powder.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the shallot and fry until golden. Add the crab, reserved coral and stir until fragrant. Turn off the heat and let cool for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Add the fermented shrimp sauce, palm sugar and black pepper to the crab. Add the beaten eggs and mix well.

Grease disposable gloves with oil, then form 16 ¼" to ½" thick patties. Place them on a greased platter. The patties shouldn't look perfect.

Making bún riêu soup:

In a pot, add the broth and bring to a boil.

In the same pan (used for the crab patties), add more oil (if necessary). Add red chili powder and tomato paste. Dissolve a little warm broth and return to the pot.

Add the patties and slowly drizzle with lime juice. After some seconds, the crab should have the appearance of a crab cake with feathery sides. Cook for about 4-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gather the crab "cakes" onto a platter. Set aside.

Add the tomatoes and deep-fried tofu. Check the seasoning. Adjust sweetness of the broth. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. The amount of sugar varies with the sweetness of the tomatoes. The secret is to balance the sweetness then the saltiness. Be sure not to over-salt!

Assembly time (when you're ready to serve):

Line up your serving bowls. Place some aromatic herbs (basil, mint, tía tô and  rau răm), cilantro and green onions in each bowl. Add the boiled rice noodles. Ladle the broth into the bowls with the shiitake mushrooms. Top with fried tofu and the (warm) crab patties (divide each patty into 2 pieces per bowl).

Bring the soup back to a boil. Let simmer for about 10 minutes to make sure it's warm enough. Add the green onions. Cover for 5-8 minutes, then remove the pot from the stove. Let sit until you're ready to serve. Complete the bowls with the broth.

Garnish with ribbons of lettuce and more Vietnamese herbs for more crunch. Serve with nước chấm, lime wedges and fresh chiles on the side.

Serve immediately.

Sprinkle with black pepper. Drizzle some nước mắm into the broth to finish.

Bon appétit!


If you fancy more Vietnamese súp cua (crab soup), check out my súp măng cua recipe (asparagus and crab soup).

For the crab cooking time, count approximately 8 minutes per pound.

You can find rock sugar in any Asian stores. You can also use granulated sugar.

Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy it at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.

Dried shrimp (tôm khô in Vietnamese) add a unique salty taste to the crab patties. I finely grind them before adding to the mixture. This ingredient is very common in Vietnamese cuisine. I sometimes add some to fried rice but when cooked, the taste is very different.

Bún = noodles

Riêu  = simmer 

Cua = crab


Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 24, 2012.


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