Nothing feels more satisfying than coming home after a long day and taking a comforting sip out of a steaming bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. Growing up, my family had a tradition of eating mostly rice on weekdays and noodle soup on weekends, since my mom would have more time to simmer the broth and prepare the various ingredients. Looking back, I realize that her love language has always been cooking for loved ones—this was evident in every noodle strand and spoonful of soup she carefully prepared for us.

When I returned home for spring break, my mom eagerly asked me which noodle soup dishes I wanted to eat. I was suddenly struck by the fact that many people are not aware of these richly complex and flavorful dishes unique to Vietnam—noodle soups that embody comfort, warmth, and love. From my experience, the only dish most people are knowledgeable about is phở, which, while great, is not representative of Vietnamese cuisine as a whole. Hence, here is a guide on six of the most popular Vietnamese noodle soup dishes so you will never be left clueless while looking at a Vietnamese restaurant menu again!

Bún Bò Huế (Beef Noodle Soup)

Originating from Huế, a city in central Vietnam, bún bò huế is probably the most popular dish on this list—you’ll see this often in Vietnamese restaurants. Made from hours of simmering pork and beef bones with lemongrass, the broth is both savory and sweet. The key to a great bowl of bún bò huế is the strength of the lemongrass aroma: the more, the better. To finish it off, the soup is seasoned with fermented shrimp paste, sugar, and fish sauce to taste. Thick vermicelli noodles are used to soak up all the flavorful broth.

Bún bò huế is typically topped with slices of marinated beef shank, chả lụa (Vietnamese sausage), oxtail, pork knuckles, and pig blood curd. A word of warning—this dish can get very spicy, since it is finished off with a special lemongrass chili oil that adds another dimension of flavor and spice. Bún bò huế typically takes hours to make, so make sure to savor the noodle soup the next time you give it a try. 

#SpoonTip: Almost every Vietnamese noodle soup dish is served alongside a plate of fresh vegetables and herbs that often includes lime slices for that extra hint of acidity. Bún bò huế, in particular, is paired with slices of raw onion, shredded banana blossom and cabbage, bean sprouts, and a variety of herbs (e.g. mint and basil). These ingredients build texture into the dish and balance out the greasiness of the soup and meat toppings.

Mì Quảng (Quang-Style Noodles)

This underrated Vietnamese noodle soup dish is my mom’s favorite—she's renowned for her mì quảng in our family. This dish is identifiable by its vibrant yellow, flat, and wide rice noodles, dyed with turmeric (similar to egg noodle pasta). Mì quảng emerged from the Quảng Nam Province in central Vietnam, where my mom is from, and has historical roots in impoverished regions, where people couldn’t afford the more luxurious ingredients required for phở or bún bò huế. It’s usually served in more formal settings, such as family get-togethers and Tết (Vietnamese New Year).

Because only enough soup is served to cover the noodles, this dish is on the saltier side, bordering on the edge of being too flavorful. Mì quảng is also eaten with a lot of fresh herbs, lettuce, and vegetables, creating a dish that's part-noodle soup, part-salad. The broth is made using pork or chicken broth and seasoned with fish sauce and sauteed shallots and tomatoes. Mì quảng is topped with chicken, marinated pork belly, or shrimp, and garnished with toasted peanuts, bánh tráng (toasted sesame rice crackers), lime juice, and chili peppers.

Hủ Tiếu (Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup)

An outlier from the other dishes on this list, hủ tiếu is not unique to Vietnam: similar varieties can be seen in other countries, such as Cambodia (kuyteav) and China. However, this dish is quite popular in Vietnam and is typically served in restaurants. Hủ tiếu is made with a sweet and umami clear pork-bone broth and flat rice noodles—the same ones found in phở. It is served with a variety of toppings, but my mom’s version includes stir-fried ground beef, shrimp, and sometimes cuttlefish or octopus, with chives and fried shallots on top. This Vietnamese noodle soup in particular, though simple, exemplifies comfort for many people.

Bún Chả Cá (Fish Cake Noodle Soup)

Popular in seaside cities, bún chả cá is a childhood favorite of many kids because of its signature delicious Vietnamese fish cake. Made with white fish paste, fish sauce, garlic, shallots, and black pepper, the fish cake is delightfully springy and flavorful, and it can either be boiled in the soup broth or fried.

To me, bún chả cá stands out amongst these Vietnamese noodle soups for its light and sweet flavor. My mom makes a vegetable broth from simmering carrots, cabbage, and sometimes even apples to achieve that pleasantly aromatic sweetness, but other recipes use pork or chicken broth. The dish includes thin vermicelli noodles and is finished off with dried bamboo shoots, slices of pineapple, and tomato.

Bún Riêu (Pork and Crab Noodle Soup)

Continuing with the theme of smooth broths, bún riêu is known for its clear and savory pork tomato broth. The dish consists of thin vermicelli noodles and riêu (meatballs made of shrimp, pork, egg, crab paste, and minced freshwater crab). These meatballs are cooked in the broth and then combined with an assortment of vegetables and herbs, culminating in a fresh umami taste. The tomato flavor of the soup comes from sauteed tomatoes that are cut into quarters and then further cooked in the broth.

#SpoonTip: This is another dish where vegetables make a large difference in the overall quality; pair the noodles with shredded water spinach or cabbage to add a nice crunch!

Bánh Canh Cua (Thick Noodle Crab Soup)

Last but not least is bánh canh cua, a filling dish perfect for the cold months of winter. Similar in texture and shape to udon, the noodles are made from tapioca starch and are thick and chewy when cooked. The noodles are fairly easy to make and are often homemade—I have fond memories of kneeling on the ground next to my dad as he kneaded the dough for the noodles. The starch from the freshly made noodles thickens the pork bone broth that, paired with sauteed fresh crab, results in a savory, seafood aroma.

#SpoonTip: Don’t mix! When eating, start from one side only and work your way through the bowl. Mixing disturbs the thickness of the broth.

As a note, these Vietnamese noodle soup dishes can be made in a variety of ways, and the descriptions above reflect my own personal experiences. I hope this article has opened your eyes to the variety of dishes that Vietnam has to offer. Vietnamese cuisine is so rich and complex, but so much of it is often left unexplored. The next time you are craving a noodle soup, check out a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and try one of these dishes!