Vietnamese soup simmeringBÚN BÒ HUE

serves 2


Beef stock: can use cubes or condensed but best to use pork/beef bones, oxtail, chopped into chunks, simmered  down for 2-3 hours and skimmed of the majority of fat, you need about 3 pints stock.

Ideally, should also have Vietnamese staple, (pungent) shrimp paste, but I’ve substituted for slightly more available oyster sauce.
500g beef, e.g. bavette (from between ribs) steak

Rice noodles

1 cinnamon stick

3 garlic cloves

2 star anise

A thumb sized chunk of ginger

3 red chillies

2 sticks lemongrass

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

Half red onion

Handful of holy basil

1 lime


Place cinnamon stick and star anise in large saucepan

Chop finely the garlic, the ginger, 2 of the chillies (remove seeds and rinse chillies under cold tap before chopping to reduce heat), slice the red onion, peel the outer skin of lemongrass stalks and finely chop the whiter ends. Add all of this to a tbsp of rapeseed oil in the sauce pan. Let it sizzle for 30secs then add stock. Add majority of torn holy basil leaves, leave a handful for garnish.

Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

7 minutes in, taste, add soy sauce and oyster sauce at discretion, remove cinnamon stick and star anise. Add rice noodles.

Slice the beef into thin strips, about two inches long and no thicker than a quarter of an inch, thinner if possible.

Place the uncooked beef into serving bowls.

Ladle hot soup into these bowls, divide the noodles into both.

Provide a side dish with optional garnish of half lime, bean sprouts, some finely chopped red chilli and holy basil leaves



I recently returned from a small Island off the coast of Vietnam where I had a motorbike accident.  I had hoped the serenity of the island would help me focus on writing, but the only writing I did was on the back of an envelope just after my accident. 

It’s somewhat disjointed (the writing, not the foot) but I was probably still in shock, I reproduce it here nonetheless:

I’m lain on a gurney in a tiny Vietnamese hospital. I’ve just had stitches to close a gaping wound in my foot after a motorbike accident. 

A woman is dying noisily in the room behind me.

Another, even more serious accident is in the cubicle beside me.

A man name ‘Luck’ translated for me. He’s the general manager of where I’m staying. He sat with me, “you’ll be fine”, he said – but he left during the stitches, looking queasy.

Luck! A one armed, few toothed man just wandered into the hospital, selling lottery tickets.

My blood was spurting out on the red clay road.

I tumbled and slid on my right hand side.

My Frankenstein monster foot, in stitches.

I was a boy the last time I had stitches. 

Foot feels weird, taut, numb.

Will the pain return?

Oh, the people I love.  I love them.

A man staunched my wound with a ripped open cigarette, the nicotine leaves sopping up my blood and stinging into my system. 

“What can I do?” I asked myself on that red clay road.

Life is not to be taken for granted.

I love you. If ever I have loved you. I love you.