Part of the reason I started this blog was to learn how to make Vietnamese dishes I couldn’t get normally. This noodle soup fits squarely into that box. Even in large Vietnamese American communities, banh canh cua is not found at every restaurant because it’s just not a popular dish. Part of the reason is that it’s definitely an acquired taste because it has a thick soup with large chewy noodles. The texture itself can be off putting to a lot of people. I personally didn’t really like it that much growing up for that reason. But as I got older, it definitely grew on me. Now, I just wish I could find it in more places which is why I decided to write a recipe for it.
What is banh canh cua?
Banh canh cua (which translates to crab noodle soup) is a noodle soup made with a thick, tapioca broth served with banh canh (tapioca noodles) and topped with pork, shrimp, and crab. The broth has a bright, orange color with a thick, sticky texture. The broth texture almost matches the texture of the tapioca noodles which are really chewy. Traditional toppings for banh canh cua are pork, shrimp, crab, and minced green onions. But like every Vietnamese dish, there are variations depending on the recipe you’re using. Other toppings I’ve seen used are fish balls, blood cake, quail eggs, and even Chinese fried dough (Youtiao).
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
- Pork shoulder – Pork shoulder is my favorite cut of meat for soups because the fat content makes for a rich broth. For this recipe, I used pork shoulder with bone because the bone ups that richness. If you can’t find pork shoulder with bones, I would get 2 pounds of pork shoulder and then 1 pound of other pork cuts with bones.
- Yellow onion – Adds sweetness to the broth. A good substitute would be white onions.
- Dried shrimp – Adds sweetness to the broth. You can substitute with 1/4 pound of raw shrimp if you can’t find dried shrimp.
- Daikon – Adds sweetness to the broth. If you can’t find daikon, I would add another yellow onion to compensate.
- Fish sauce – Adds umami and saltiness to the broth. My favorite brand of fish sauce to use is Three Crabs fish sauce.
- Chicken broth powder – Chicken broth powder is essentially the powder form of chicken bouillon. A good substitute is 1 can of chicken broth.
- Tapioca starch – Gives the broth its thick, sticky texture. Since this noodle soup is centered around tapioca starch, I would definitely try to use it if you can find it. If you need to substitute, I would use corn starch.
- Annatto seeds & vegetable oil – Simmering these 2 ingredients together creates the annatto oil which gives the broth its orange color. If you can’t find annatto seeds, I would just leave it out.
Below are the traditional toppings I’ve seen, but feel free to go wild with yours. I’ve also seen fish balls, blood cake, and even Chinese fried donuts used.
- Crab meat – This is the main topping on this dish. I got cooked crab meat from the store, but it’s best to use crab meat from fresh crabs.
- Shrimp – Any kind of shrimp should work for this recipe.
- Banh canh – These tapioca noodles can usually be found at Asian grocery stores, but if you can’t find them, I would substitute with udon.
- Fried shallots – Adds a crunchy texture to the noodle soup.
- Green onions – This is optional, but it adds a freshness to the dish.
Making my banh canh cua
Prep your ingredients for the broth
The first few steps are all about prepping the ingredients for the broth. First, preheat the oven to broil and bake the onion for 20 minutes until the onion is charred on the outside. Next, soak the dried shrimp in a bowl of water. Set aside. Parboil the pork shoulder. Add the pork to a soup pot and cover with water so that it just covers the pork. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take out the pork pieces and throw out the water. Clean the pot and add the pork pieces back to the pot.
Making your broth and noodle bowls
Now you’re ready to make your broth. Add the broiled onion, soaked shrimp, daikon, and salt to the pot. Cover the ingredients with water until it just covers the ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Make sure to check the soup every 15 minutes for impurities. Scoop away any impurities that you see. While the broth is simmering, prepare your toppings. Boil your shrimp and banh canh. Set aside. After simmering for 45 minutes, the pork should be done. Take the pork out and separate the bones from the meat. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Put the bones back in the broth. Add chicken broth powder and fish sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes.
While the broth is simmering, make your annatto oil. Combine annatto seeds and vegetable in a sauce pan. Simmer for 1-2 minutes until the oil turns orange. Set aside. After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, mix tapioca starch with 2/3 cup of water and add to the broth. Simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. Lastly, add the annatto oil, and your broth is done! Now it’s time to assemble your noodle bowls. Add banh canh to a bowl. Top with pork, crab meat, shrimp, green onions, and fried shallots and serve!
Tips on how to make the perfect banh canh cua
- Parboil the pork – A clean, clear broth comes from parboiling the pork. Pork has a lot of gross little bits that come out when you first start to boil it. They make the broth cloudy and unappetizing. To parboil pork, combine pork and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and turn off the heat. Remove the pork pieces and throw out the water. Add the pork pieces back to the pot and cover with fresh water. Make sure to clean the pot before adding back the pork because those gross bits will stick to the pot.
- Don’t use too much water when making the broth – If you add too much water when making the broth, it will dilute the flavors of all the ingredients. Make sure to add enough water to just cover the ingredients.
- Keep broth at a low simmer. Once you begin simmering your broth, make sure the broth doesn’t reach a point where it starts boiling again. If the broth boils too much, it will result in a cloudy broth.
Other Vietnamese noodle soup recipes
- Traditional Vietnamese Beef Pho
- Spicy Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue)
- Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu)
- Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Bun Thang)
- Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)
Did you make this dish?
If you made this dish, I would love to see!
Banh Canh Cua (Vietnamese Crab & Shrimp Tapioca Noodle Soup)
- ¼ cup crab meat
- ½ lb shrimp
- 2 packages banh canh
- 2 tbsp fried shallots
- 2 stalks green onions minced
- 1 tsp annatto seeds
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
Prep broth ingredients
- Preheat oven to broil and bake the onion for 20 minutes until it is charred on the outside. Set aside.
- Soak dried shrimp in water for 10 minutes. Set aside.
- Parboil the pork shoulder to clean the meat. Add pork to a soup pot. Cover with water so that it just covers the pork. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take out the pork and throw out all your water. Clean the pot and run the pork under water to clean off any gross bits. Add the pork back to the clean soup pot.
Make the broth
- Now you’re ready to make your broth. Add the broiled onion, dried shrimp, daikon, and salt to the pot. Add water until it just covers all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. During this time, make sure to check on the soup every 15 minutes to scoop away impurities.
- While your soup is simmering, prepare your toppings. Boil your shrimp and banh canh. Set aside.
- After simmering for 45 minutes, the meat should be done. Separate the meat from the bones and add the bones back to the pot. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Add the fish sauce and chicken broth powder and simmer for 30 minutes.
- While the broth is simmering, make your annatto oil. Combine annatto seeds and vegetable oil in a sauce pan and simmer for 1-2 minutes until the oil turns orange. Set side.
- Mix the tapioca starch with 2/3 cup of water. Once the soup is done simmering, add the tapioca starch slurry. Let the soup simmer for 5 minutes to thicken.
- Lastly, add in the annatto oil and your soup is done.
Put together your noodle bowls
- Now it’s time to put your noodle bowls together. Add noodles to a bowl. Top with pork shoulder, crab meat, shrimp, fried shallots, and minced green onions and enjoy!