Canh Bún, the Vietnamese Gem You Need to Try

Canh bún - flavorful Vietnamese noodle soup with vermicelli, aromatic broth, fresh herbs & protein. Discover this delightful street food classic.

Canh Bun
Canh bún. It is a Vietnamese soup dish that features vermicelli noodles (bún) in a hot broth. The broth is typically made from beef or pork bones and is flavored with lemongrass, shrimp paste, fish sauce, and other aromatics. Common proteins added are sliced beef, beef meatballs, shrimp, or fish cake.

Canh Bun

Takes a deep breath

Alright food lovers, get ready for a flavor adventure that will transport you straight to the bustling streets of Vietnam! Today, we're diving into the captivating world of canh bún, a dish that has stolen my heart and forever changed the way I view noodle soups.

Picture this: You're strolling through the narrow alleyways of Hanoi, the aroma of simmering broths and sizzling woks wafting through the air like an irresistible siren call. That's when you stumble upon a humble street stall, steam billowing from the massive pots, and a line of locals eagerly awaiting their turn. This, my friends, is where the magic happens.

As you approach the stall, the proprietor greets you with a warm smile, inviting you to take a seat on one of the tiny plastic stools that line the sidewalk. With expert hands, they begin assembling your bowl of canh bún, a symphony of flavors and textures that will leave you utterly spellbound.

First, they ladle in the broth, a rich and aromatic elixir that has been slowly simmered for hours, extracting every ounce of essence from beef bones, lemongrass, and a blend of carefully guarded spices. This liquid gold is the backbone of the dish, a harmonious marriage of umami depth and vibrant herbal notes that tantalize the senses.

Next, they add a tangle of vermicelli noodles, their delicate strands dancing in the broth, eagerly awaiting the flavors to come. But wait, there's more! Tender slices of beef, succulent meatballs, and perhaps even a few plump shrimp make their way into the bowl, cooked to perfection and ready to mingle with the other ingredients.

As if that weren't enough, a vibrant array of fresh herbs and vegetables are artfully arranged alongside the steaming bowl – crisp bean sprouts, verdant morning glory, fragrant cilantro, and zesty lime wedges, each one poised to contribute its unique flavor and texture to the masterpiece.

Now, the true artistry begins. With a deft hand, you pluck a few sprigs of herbs and gently lower them into the broth, releasing their aromatic essence. A sprinkle of fried shallots adds a crispy, savory crunch, while a judicious squeeze of lime brightens the entire concoction with a zesty punch.

But wait, there's one final touch – the chili sauce. A small dish of this fiery elixir sits unassumingly on the side, beckoning you to unleash its formidable heat upon the unsuspecting canh bún. With a mischievous grin, you add a dollop (or perhaps a generous glug, if you're feeling daring), and the broth takes on a spicy, mouth-tingling quality that will have you reaching for your glass of iced Vietnamese coffee in blissful relief.

As you slurp up the noodles, savoring each bite with unabashed relish, you can't help but marvel at the harmonious interplay of flavors and textures. The rich broth coats your tongue with its beefy essence, while the tender meats and vegetables offer a satisfying contrast. The herbs, meanwhile, provide a burst of freshness that cuts through the richness, ensuring that each spoonful is as vibrant and balanced as the last.

Canh bún, my dear friends, is more than just a soup – it's a culinary masterpiece, a symphony of flavors that whisks you away to the heart of Vietnam with every slurp. And as you sit there, basking in the warmth of the steaming bowl and the gentle hum of the city around you, you can't help but feel grateful for the humble street stall that introduced you to this gastronomic gem.

Canh Bun Recipe


  1. Broth: The backbone of canh bún is its rich, aromatic broth. Typically, it's made by simmering beef or pork bones for hours, extracting every ounce of flavor and body. This process lends the broth a deep, umami-rich base that sets the stage for the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Lemongrass: This fragrant herb is an essential component in Vietnamese cooking, and canh bún is no exception. Bruised lemongrass stalks are added to the broth, imparting a citrusy, slightly floral aroma that brightens and lifts the overall flavor profile.
  3. Fish Sauce (Nước Mắm): A staple in Vietnamese cuisine, fish sauce adds a savory depth and richness to the broth. Its complex, umami-packed notes contribute to the dish's bold, satisfying taste.
  4. Shrimp Paste: This pungent paste, made from fermented shrimp, might seem overpowering on its own, but when used judiciously, it adds an incredible depth of flavor to the broth, enhancing its complexity and richness.
  5. Vermicelli Noodles (Bún): These delicate rice vermicelli noodles are the star of the show, serving as the perfect vehicle for soaking up the flavorful broth. Their slender texture provides a delightful contrast to the heartier components of the dish.
  6. Protein: Canh bún often features a variety of proteins, such as thinly sliced beef, beef meatballs, shrimp, or even fish cakes. These provide not only substance but also contribute to the overall depth of flavor in the soup.
  7. Vegetables and Herbs: No canh bún would be complete without a vibrant array of fresh vegetables and herbs. Common additions include crisp bean sprouts, water morning glory (or spinach), cilantro, and mint. These not only add texture and crunch but also infuse the dish with bright, refreshing flavors and aromas.
  8. Fried Shallots: These crispy, golden slivers of fried shallots are sprinkled over the top of the soup, providing a delightful crunch and a subtle sweetness that complements the other flavors beautifully.
  9. Lime Wedges: A squeeze of tangy lime juice is the perfect finishing touch, cutting through the richness of the broth and adding a burst of citrusy brightness to the dish.
  10. Chili Sauce (Tương Ớt): For those who crave a little heat, a dollop of fiery chili sauce is an essential accompaniment. This vibrant condiment adds a kick of spice that can be adjusted to suit individual preferences.


Let's start with the broth, the backbone of this dish. In a large pot, you'll want to combine beef or pork bones with water, lemongrass stalks, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and any other aromatics you prefer, like ginger or star anise. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for at least 2 hours, or even better, 4-6 hours. This slow simmering process extracts all the rich flavors from the bones and spices, creating a deeply savory and fragrant broth.

While the broth is simmering, you can prepare the other components. Cook the vermicelli rice noodles according to package instructions, making sure to rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process and prevent them from overcooking. Set them aside.

Next, prep your proteins. Thinly slice beef or pork, form meatballs from ground beef or pork, or peel and devein shrimp if using those. You can also prepare fish cakes or any other protein you'd like to include.

Now, it's time to assemble your fresh accompaniments. Slice or julienne vegetables like bean sprouts, water morning glory (or spinach), and any other greens you enjoy. Finely chop fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, and green onions. Cut a few limes into wedges for that bright, citrusy finish.

Once your broth is ready, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the proteins and cook until they're just done, being careful not to overcook them.

We've documented a step by step approach with ingredients with accurate measurements in our dedicated Canh Bun recipe page.

To serve, place a portion of cooked vermicelli noodles in a bowl, then ladle the hot broth and proteins over the top. Garnish with the fresh vegetables, herbs, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of fried shallots or garlic for added crunch.

Don't forget to provide condiments like chili sauce or Sriracha for those who like a bit of heat, and perhaps some extra fish sauce or soy sauce on the side for extra seasoning.

Encourage your diners to customize their bowls by adding as many or as few of the fresh herbs and vegetables as they like. The beauty of canh bún lies in the harmonious interplay of flavors and textures, with each person able to tailor the dish to their personal preferences.


Canh bún is a delightfully versatile dish that allows for endless possibilities when it comes to serving and accompaniments. And, one popular way to serve canh bún is in a traditional Vietnamese setting, where the components are presented separately, allowing diners to assemble their own bowls. The steaming hot broth is poured into individual bowls, with the cooked proteins, noodles, and fresh garnishes artfully arranged on plates for each person to add as desired. This interactive approach not only encourages customization but also adds an element of ritual and ceremony to the meal.

If you prefer a more composed presentation, you can serve canh bún as a complete dish, with the noodles, proteins, and garnishes already immersed in the flavorful broth. This method allows the flavors to meld together seamlessly, creating a harmonious blend in every bite. However, be sure to provide additional garnishes and condiments on the side, so diners can still adjust the flavors to their liking.

Accompaniments play a crucial role in enhancing the flavors of canh bún. Freshly made Vietnamese spring rolls, known as gỏi cuốn, make a perfect pairing. These delicate rolls, filled with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and sometimes shrimp or pork, offer a refreshing contrast to the rich, savory broth. Dipping them in a tangy-sweet nước chấm sauce adds another layer of flavor to the meal.

For those seeking a heartier accompaniment, Vietnamese meatballs (xíu mại) or grilled lemongrass pork skewers (thịt nướng xiên que) are excellent choices. The tender meatballs can be added directly to the soup, while the grilled skewers can be served on the side, providing a smoky, charred flavor to complement the bright, herbaceous notes of the canh bún.

No Vietnamese meal would be complete without a spread of fresh herbs and vegetables. In addition to the typical garnishes like bean sprouts, cilantro, and mint, consider offering thinly sliced cabbage, cucumber, and pickled carrots and radishes. These crunchy, refreshing elements not only add texture but also help balance the richness of the broth.

Finally, don't forget the condiments! Chili sauces like Sriracha or tương ớt are essential for those who love a touch of heat. Fish sauce (nước mắm) and soy sauce can be provided for additional seasoning, while crispy fried shallots or garlic chips add a delightful crunch to the dish.

Whether you opt for a traditional, composed, or family-style serving approach, the beauty of canh bún lies in its ability to accommodate individual preferences and taste buds. With a thoughtful selection of accompaniments and garnishes, you can transform this humble noodle soup into a truly memorable and satisfying culinary experience.

Tips and Recommendations

  1. Bone broth: The key to a rich, flavorful broth lies in using high-quality bones. Opt for marrow-rich beef or pork bones, and don't skimp on the simmering time. The longer the bones simmer, the more flavor and body the broth will have.
  2. Aromatics: While lemongrass is essential, feel free to experiment with other aromatics like ginger, star anise, or whole coriander seeds. These subtle additions can add depth and complexity to the broth.
  3. Fish sauce: A good-quality fish sauce is crucial for achieving that authentic Vietnamese flavor profile. Look for brands that use only anchovies and salt, without any added preservatives or flavorings.
  4. Fresh herbs: Don't be shy with the fresh herbs! Generous amounts of cilantro, mint, and basil not only add vibrant flavors but also provide a beautiful pop of color and fragrance.
  5. Protein options: While beef and shrimp are classic choices, you can also experiment with other proteins like pork, chicken, or even tofu for a vegetarian twist.
  6. Condiments: Encourage diners to customize their bowls with a variety of condiments, such as chili sauces, fresh lime wedges, crispy fried shallots, and even pickled vegetables for an added crunch and tang.


  1. Seafood canh bún: Swap out the beef or pork for a combination of shrimp, squid, and fish. Use a flavorful seafood or chicken broth as the base, and add a touch of fish sauce and lemongrass for that signature Vietnamese flavor.
  2. Vegetarian canh bún: Create a vegetable-based broth using mushroom broth, vegetable stock, or even coconut broth for a rich, creamy base. Load up on fresh vegetables like bok choy, mushrooms, and tofu for protein.
  3. Chicken canh bún: For a lighter option, use a flavorful chicken broth as the base and add tender slices of cooked chicken breast or thighs. This variation is perfect for those who prefer a milder flavor profile.
  4. Regional variations: Canh bún can vary greatly depending on the region of Vietnam. In the north, the broth tends to be more robust and heavily spiced, while in the south, the broth is lighter and often infused with coconut milk for a creamy touch.
  5. Noodle variations: While vermicelli noodles are traditional, you can also experiment with other noodle types, such as flat rice noodles (bánh phở) or even egg noodles, for a different texture and flavor.

Everything You Should Know About Canh Bun

1. What is canh bún? Canh bún is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup that features vermicelli rice noodles (bún) in a flavorful broth, typically made with beef or pork bones, lemongrass, and various aromatics. It's often topped with proteins like sliced beef, meatballs, or shrimp, and garnished with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and other vegetables.

2. What makes canh bún unique? The distinct flavors of canh bún come from the combination of a deeply savory broth infused with lemongrass and fish sauce, contrasted with the bright, refreshing notes of fresh herbs and vegetables. This harmonious balance of flavors and textures sets canh bún apart from other noodle soups.

3. What are the key ingredients in canh bún broth? The backbone of canh bún is the broth, typically made by simmering beef or pork bones for hours to extract their rich flavors. Key ingredients include lemongrass, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and various aromatics like ginger, star anise, or coriander seeds.

4. Can canh bún be made vegetarian or vegan? Absolutely! To make a vegetarian or vegan version of canh bún, simply substitute the meat-based broth with a flavorful vegetable or mushroom broth. Tofu, seitan, or plant-based proteins can be used as the protein component, and the fresh herb and vegetable garnishes can remain the same.

5. What type of noodles are used in canh bún? Traditionally, canh bún is made with vermicelli rice noodles, also known as bún. These delicate, thread-like noodles provide the perfect texture and a neutral base to soak up the flavors of the broth and garnishes.

6. How is canh bún typically served? Canh bún can be served in a few different ways. In a traditional Vietnamese setting, the components are presented separately, allowing diners to assemble their own bowls. Alternatively, it can be served as a composed dish, with the noodles, proteins, and garnishes already immersed in the broth.

7. What are some common protein options for canh bún? The most common proteins used in canh bún are thinly sliced beef, beef meatballs (xíu mại), and shrimp. However, variations can include pork, chicken, fish cakes, or even tofu for a vegetarian option.

8. What are the typical garnishes for canh bún? Fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, and basil are essential garnishes for canh bún, adding vibrant flavors and aromas. Other common garnishes include bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, lime wedges, fried shallots or garlic, and various pickled vegetables.

9. Can canh bún be made ahead of time? While canh bún is best enjoyed fresh, it can be made ahead of time to a certain extent. The broth and proteins can be prepared in advance and stored separately, then assembled with the fresh noodles and garnishes when ready to serve.

10. What are some popular condiments served with canh bún? Canh bún is often served with a variety of condiments to allow diners to customize their bowls. Popular options include chili sauces like Sriracha or tương ớt, fish sauce (nước mắm), soy sauce, and crispy fried shallots or garlic chips.

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