Bún Nước Lèo Tra Vinh – Reserved Fish Noodle Soup

“Tourists, please come to try our aroma and delicious Bun Nuoc Leo Tra Vinh. Then you never forget how delicious it is!” (Source: Khmer’s folk song).

Bún Nước Lèo, is special reserved fish rice noodle soup,  is Tra Vinh’s signature dish.  It is the “Melting Pot,” between the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Khmer cuisine.

Bun Nuoc Leo Tra Vinh
Bun Nuoc Leo Tra Vinh

Bun Nuoc Leo has a long history.  At the beginning, it was Khmer’s cheap fish noodle soup, served with vegetable plate, and sold at the local farmer markets in the Mekong Delta. Then, the Vietnamese/Chinese chefs have improved the recipes for better flavor and taste. Subsequently, Bun Nuoc Leo is served with “luxury” side dishes such as thịt heo quay (Chinese roast pork) and crunchy cha gio (Vietnamese eggrolls).

Nước Lèo (fish stock) is cooked from special  Khmer’s reserved fish (mam), shrimp, red pepper, lemongrass, mushrooms and herbs.   Bun nuoc leo is served with rice noodles, seafood, shrimps, fish fillets, and special side dishes.

Side dishes:  Thit heo quay (Chinese roast pork),  cha gio (egg-roll), or  banh gia (shrimp cupcake)


Unless the recipe is from someone who was from the Mekong Delta, who ate and cooked “Bun Nuoc Leo” many times, we do not trust any recipe on the internet now.

The complete recipe will be coming soon.  Please read the cooking instructions, if you want to cook Bun Nuoc Leo Tra Vinh now.

Traditionally,  people use shredded fish (ca ria)  to cook fish stock.  In my family,  we improve the cooking technique, enhance the aroma, taste and decoration.  Therefore, we use chicken broth, shrimp sausages, fish fillets and squids to cook Bun Nuoc Leo.


  • Cooked rice noodles
Reserved Fish Sauce
  • 1 jar of  Khmer reserved fish “Mam” ca Sac (ca Linh or Ca Tren)
  • Water
Fish Stock
  • Chicken broth (can or homemade)
  • Mushrooms, chopped
  • Lemongrass, chopped
  • Red pepper, chopped
  • Ngai Bun (optional)
  • Water
  • Salt to taste
Shrimp Sausage
  • 1 lb. unshelled shrimps
  • Lemongrass, fine chopped
  • Red pepper, fine chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Fish fillets (tilapia, sea bass), squids
  • Shrimp sausages
  • Blood pudding “huyet” (optional)
Vegetable plate
  • Water lily,
  • Bean sprouts,
  • Shredded vegetables:  cabbage, banana flower,
  • Rau muong (water spinach)
  • Herbs: Mints, rau ram, he (garlic chives)
Side dishes
  • Lime wedges, red pepper,  salt, vinegar, fish sauce


  • Khmer reserved fish “mam”: Use single type of Mam or combine 2 or 3 types of Mam.  Do not use the liquid in the jar of the reserved fish since it’s too sweet, and it does not give good flavor for the soup.  “Mam bo hoc” is very stinky, so use it very little in the fish stock (ratio 1:10 combined with mam ca linh, ca tren or ca sac)
  • Reserved Fish Sauce: In small pot, cook 1 jar of “mam” (without liquid of mam) and water, simmer  at low heat until fish completely dissolved and just fish bone remained. Good  aging “mam,” takes less 30 minutes to cook.  Bad “mam” may take about 1 hour to cook.  Remove fish bones.  Use this reserved fish sauce for fish stock. Note that you need to open the windows, and simmer reserved fish sauce with low heat to eliminate the fish odor.
  • Nước Lèo Fish stock: Cook  all ingredients of fish stock with “reserved fish sauce,” add extra salt if need it.  Good fish stock is not fishy, has aroma of lemongrass, and  red pepper.
  • Shrimp sausages:  In food processor, place unshelled shrimps, salt, chopped lemongrass and chopped red pepper.  Process until we have smooth shrimp paste.  Place shrimp paste into a  Ziploc bag.
  • Cook the shrimp sausage in boiling fish stock.  Cut a small corner of the Ziploc. Squeeze out the shrimp paste directly into the boiling fish stock.   The shrimp sausage cooked when they float to the surface of the soup.  Put cooked shrimp sausages on plate for topping later.
  • Cook  seafood:  Cook fish fillets (tilapia, sea bass), squids in the boiling fish stock.  Do not overcook the seafood.
  • Topping.  We top the noodle soup with fish fillets and shrimp sausages, and squids.

Cooking Tips

  • An authentic fish stock has shrimp paste or “mam nem” in it.
  • Open the windows, and simmer reserved fish sauce with low heat to eliminate the fish odor.  Do not cook the Reserved Fish Sauce if you do not have good kitchen fan hood.


  1. Link to Vietnamese article: Tim hieu mon Bun Nuoc Leo.
  2. Đặc sản Trà Vinh – Bún nước lèo – Youtube video in Vietnamese

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