This Vietnamese pork thick noodle soup, or Banh Canh, is a very popular dish in Vietnam. It is made with thick round noodles, tender pieces of pork cooked in a flavoursome broth. You can load it up with extras, or keep it simple – either way this lesser known noodle soup is one of the most comforting belly warmers you’ll ever taste.
Steph and I have been making banh canh for years. Our original recipe was my mother’s more traditional version using pork hock, pigs trotters and dried squid. At this point you’ll either be salivating and nodding in agreement, or confused and a little put off. While these ingredients give the soup great flavour and a slightly gelatinous texture, they weren’t always available in the few shops in our area that did stock them. We now use pork shoulder and dried shrimp instead, which is much more accessible where we live, and still produces a great tasting soup.
What Cut of Pork to Use
The best cut of meat for this dish is pork hock but as mentioned before it can be hard to get. The next best cut is pork shoulder because it has sinew running through it which helps soften the meat. The one cut I would stay away from is leg roast since it can be very dry and tough.
A few tips when prepping the pork:
- Wash the pork under cold water after cooking to stop the meat from darkening.
- Once the pork is cooked, cover the meat with a wet paper towel to keep the meat moist.
- Cut the meat against the grain to give it a softer texture.
Making the Soup Base
The soup base for this dish is very easy and made from scratch. It is as simple as putting all the soup ingredients into the pot and simmering it until the pork is cooked. Then strain the soup, adjust the seasoning and you are ready to serve.
The only thing to note is not to add the fish sauce too early. The fish sauce should be added at the very end to avoid boiling it which produces a slightly sour after taste.
What Noodles to Use
When my mum first arrived in Australia back in the 1980’s these types of noodles were simply not available, so she used to make them by hand. This was a very long and strenuous process since she didn’t have any gadgets to help her. Fast forward to today, you can readily find banh canh noodles in many Asian groceries.
The Cong Thanh brand below is the one I prefer to use (this is not a sponsored post). If you can’t find this then use tapioca noodles, udon noodles or any other noodles that has “banh canh” on the label.
Prepping the Noodles
It is really important to properly prep the noodles so they do not break up and turn to mush. Here are a few pointers to give you the best results:
- Always warm the noodles in the microwave first. If you put cold noodles into soup they will just break up.
- The noodles need to be dunked in boiling water to soften and remove the oils, impurities and smell. This is very important to preserve the taste and aroma of your noodle soup.
- There are two ways to serve the noodles:
- The first option is to place the noodles into the pot and allow them to take on the flavour of the soup for a few minutes. You will need to remove any noodles that will not be served to prevent them absorbing all the soup and becoming soft and bloated. I usually put them in a plastic container to have the next day.
- The second option is to divide the noodles into bowls after dunking it in boiling water, then pour the boiling noodle soup over the top. The benefit of this is you will only use as much as you need, but you won’t get as much flavour in the noodles.
Adding Flavour to Your Soup
The following ingredients are the biggest flavour contributors to your Vietnamese pork and thick noodle soup. Don’t forget to add them to your soup!
- Dried Shrimp (available at Asian groceries) – An absolute must to get that seafood flavour into the soup.
- Fried Onions or Shallots (available at mainstream and Asian groceries) – Honestly, Vietnamese pork and thick noodle with fried onions are a match made in heaven.
- Pork Stock Powder (available at Asian groceries) – This is an optional ingredient but highly recommended. It will give your soup that extra “OOMPH” if you think it’s missing something.
- Fish Sauce (available at mainstream and Asian groceries) – Adds the Vietnam into any Vietnamese dish!
The Optional Extras
Here are a few optional ingredients that will elevate your noodle soup if you can get your hands on them:
- Fish Cake / Fish Balls (available at Asian groceries) – These fish cakes / balls are a very popular additive to this dish. They are very easy to prepare and give the dish colour and variety.
- Cha Lua / Vietnamese Ham (available at Asian groceries) – Cha lua is a very traditional Vietnamese ingredient and much like the fish cakes it requires little effort to prepare if it’s store bought. It adds another protein to the dish and enhances the noodle soup with its flavour.
- Fried Bread Sticks / Dau Chao Quay / You Tiao (available at Asian groceries) – If you have time to make these or can get a hold of them from your Asian groceries then do it. These are simply the best accompaniment to any version of Vietnamese pork and thick noodle soup. Our recipe for this can be found here.
Other Noodle Soups You Might Like
- Quick Chicken Pho
- Quick Beef Pho
- Vietnamese Chicken Soup with Glass Noodles – Mien Ga
- Laos Khao Soi
- Quick Seafood and Pork Noodle Soup
Show Us Your Creations!
If you try any of our recipes, Steph and I would love to see your creations! Please share it with us on Instagram using #scruffandsteph and @scruffandsteph! We would also appreciate any likes / shares / follows on our Facebook page, Pinterest and Instagram. Thank you for your support!
Vietnamese Pork and Thick Noodle Soup (Banh Canh)
- 4 L stock pot
- 1 kg rice starch noodles, or tapioca / udon noodles
- 2.5 L water
- 1 kg pork shoulder, washed and cut into 2 pieces
- 2 tsp salt
- cracked pepper, to taste
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 star anise (optional)
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 10 gm dried shrimp, washed
- 1 tbsp fried shallots
- 1.5 tsp pork stock powder (Optional and available at Asian groceries)
- 3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
- 2 spring onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fried shallots
- 5 sprigs coriander, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- 200 gm sliced fish cake / fish balls
- 200 gm cha lua / Vietnamese ham cut into thin strips
- 4 fried bread sticks / dau chao quay / youtiao
- Bring 2.5 L of water to the boil in a 4L capacity pot and add the pork shoulder.
- Allow the pot to return to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Skim off any impurities that form on the surface.
- Add the remaining soup ingredients, other than the fish sauce. Simmer partially covered for 50 minutes on medium low heat.
- Prepare the garnishes.
- After 50 minutes remove the meat and check if it is cooked. If no, put the meat back into the pot until done. If yes, then wash the meat under cold water. Place a damp paper kitchen towel over the top and allow to cool before cutting into thin strips.
- With a pair of tongs, remove the onions and star anise from the soup.
- Add the fish sauce and adjust the seasoning of the soup to your taste.
Prepare the Noodles
- Put the noodles in a large bowl with a piece of damp paper towel over it. Heat the noodles in the microwave for roughly 5 minutes or until soft.
- Check the noodles are warmed through then pour enough boiling water to cover them. Loosen the noodles up with chopsticks then strain.
Prepare the Noodle Bowls
- Bring the soup back to a rolling boil on medium high.
- Once the water is boiling, add the slices of fish cake/balls (if using) and the noodles. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Fill the bowls up with noodles and soup.
- Add the pork slices, cha lua (if using) and garnishes on top, and serve with the bread sticks (if using).