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Spicy Vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

This is not one of those boring, yet another chicken soup, recipe. This one is just so good! In addition, this is really quite a simple soup to make, add ingredients and simmer till done, do not be put off by the long recipe or list of ingredients.

The occupation of Vietnam by the French led to the assimilation of Vietnamese ingredients into mainstream French cuisine. This beautiful soup is made in a very formal french style with flavorful Vietnamese ingredients by a master chef. The result is a soup that is spectacular. Unlike the bold, and amazing, Vietnamese soups (Napa cabbage and shrimp soup on this blog), this soup is delicate, yet beautifully balanced with spices and herbs.

I have finally been able to source and use a wonderful free range chicken broth in India from my friends at Broth Craft. This aromatic broth is beautifully balanced with flavors, spices and herbs and perfect for this or any soup, stews, curries and even a wonderful biryani.

This soft and delicate chicken-coconut broth is spiced with chilies and and herbs and filled with noodles and tender shredded chicken. The soup is about elegance, spicy but not overpowering, and herby like most Vietnamese soups. This soup can be a light meal, or be served as a wonderful starter.

See bottom of the recipe for vegetarian variation.

I will admit that I do not have too many French cookbooks on my shelf, a couple from Pepin and this fantastic cookbook from Dorie Greenspan. It is packed full of all the classic French dishes, and quite a few dishes from the old French colonial states, like this soup. The recipes are always fantastic and this is my go to cookbook for French cuisine.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.

Photo credits: Srikanth Badruka.


Stems from 1 bunch cilantro, well washed

1-2 points star anise

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 small onion, finely minced

3 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tablespoon ginger paste

2 dried red chiles

1 Thai chili, finely minced

8 cups chicken broth. I use 2 cans of the free range chicken broth from Broth Craft + water

A 14 oz can coconut milk

A few drops Vietnamese fish sauce, or Thai will work too

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Salt, to taste

1 lb chicken breasts, halved along the horizontal

2-3 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup cilantro, minced + some for garnish

5 oz thin Chinese egg noodles

Optional vegetables, I highly recommend these:

1 cup shelled edamame beans

1 large or 2 small bok choy, shredded finely

To garnish:

Thai basil, cut into thin ribbons

Mint, cut into thin ribbons

Cilantro,, minced

Lime wedges

Bean sprouts

Chili oil like La-yu

Hot sauce like Sriracha

To a large soup pot add the cilantro stems, star anise, ground coriander, white pepper, onions, garlic, ginger, dried chilies, Thai chilies, chicken broth and coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, salt and chicken breasts. Add the edamame, if using. Bring to a boil, and cook for 40 minutes on a gentle simmer with the lid closed.

After the 40 minutes, turn off the heat. Taste the soup and adjust the salt, fish sauce, chili and other spices. Remove the cilantro stems from the soup and discard. Add the lime juice and minced cilantro, keeping a bit for the cilantro for garnish. Remove the chicken breasts, cool and shred the chicken between your fingers, it should shred very easily. Set aside covered with a few tablespoons of the broth so they stay moist and do not dry out.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles as per the instructions on the bag. Cook for 1 minute less than recommended so that the noodles are "al dante" and do not get soggy. Drain and set aside. They will begin to clump and stick, do not worry, they will separate easily in the soup. I strongly do not recommend adding the noodles to the soup, the noodles tend to absorb the soup and thicken the broth and get soggy themselves.

To serve family style:

Heat the soup till bubbling and very hot. Add the noodles in a shallow circle in the middle of a large bowl and pour the heated soup over the noodles till they come up to level with the noodles, let a bit of the noodles peak above the soup. Add the chicken carefully on top the noodles. Sprinkle the shredded bok choy all over. Garnish with the herbs and serve immediately with the lime wedges, herbs and hot sauces on the side. Serve additional soup on the side in a separate bowl for those guests that would like more soup.

To serve in a plated manner:

Follow the method from above but use shallow bowls large enough for a single person. No need to serve additional soup on the side.

Vegetarian variation:

Do not add the chicken, substitute firm tofu instead.

Instead of the fish sauce add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, or avoid all together,

Do not add the chicken stock, instead substitute any vegetarian stock. Alternatively, make your own vegetarian stock. To the original set of ingredients, in paragraph 1, you can add to add the following:

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely minced

1 bay leaf

A few fennel seeds

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Proceed with the soup as described above.

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