Sydney has a noodle-soup oligopoly; there are three powerful recipes controlling most of the market: ramen, laksa and pho. But what about all the other noodle soups?
In Vietnamese cuisine there’s a variety of options. There’s the crab- and tomato-based bun rieu; bun thang made with pork and chicken bones; the sour and fishy bun ca; the hearty pork-based bun moc; and bun bo hue, a spicy beef noodle soup popular in Vietnam but that barely gets a mention here.
It’s relatively easy to find in this city – most pho restaurants also make a decent one, although it’s a challenge to find a particularly great one. Within the Sydney Vietnamese community the most popular bun bo hue restaurant is Gia Hoi. It opened in Canley Heights almost 12 years ago and is now a small franchise. We hear the best of the bunch is the original – now run by Jason Le and Vincent Phu – and the Cabramatta branch, which is the only one owned by the chef who started it all back in the mid-00s.
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Le and Phu explain that, like pho, the bun bo hue broth is made by boiling beef bones until every ounce of sinew and fat flavours the soup (occasionally pork bones will be added too, but not at Gia Hoi). While a southern-style pho (the kind we mostly get in Sydney) relies on a mix of herbs, spices, roasted ginger and shallots, bun bo hue has lemongrass, annatto, shrimp paste and chilli oil. “We never use these in pho,” says Le.
This style of soup is less herbal and sweet than a pho, but more sour, spicy and savoury. The noodles are thicker and on top you’d usually find sheets of beef shank, fatty slices of pork hock, cha hue (a peppery and garlic-heavy pork sausage), pork-blood jelly and a crabmeat ball.
Bun bo hue is from Hue, in central Vietnam. It’s less ubiquitous in Sydney than pho, probably because pho is from the south, where the majority of Sydney’s Vietnamese community is from.
Le suggests there might be an even more basic reason pho is so much more popular. “It's the name, it's easy to say,” he says, laughing.
Gia Hội Canley Heights
230 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights
(02) 9723 7324