Bo ne: cheap and tasty, yet a thrilling dining experience

To some people, having to dodge oil splatters rising up from a hot plate is a nuisance to be avoided, but to lovers of bò né ('sizzling' or 'dodging beef'), it's all part of the dish’s charm.

Bo ne: cheap and tasty, yet a thrilling dining experience
Bò né (‘dodging beef’) is a dish of beef, eggs, sausages and pate that is so hot that diners have to dodge the drops of oil that splatter and pop when the dish is served at the table.

A relatively simple dish, bò né has bite-size beef pieces served with a heap of other foods – usually eggs, sausages and paté – on a piping hot cast-iron pan.

To cook the dish, the pan is placed on a burning stove, and then butter and oil are added. When the raw beef is added, the already piping hot pan emits a bright, roaring flame, cooking the beef almost instantly. Cooks have to stir and turn over the beef rapidly to not risk burning the meat.

After the fire dies down, cooks quickly add other ingredients to suit customers’ orders. The sizzling, bubbling egg and the aromatic pate make the dish’s preparation a mouth-watering experience to watch.

When the dish is done, the entire pan has to be carefully picked up and placed on a wooden pan, which is then brought to customers’ tables.

The sizzling bò né pan keeps the beef and other foods hot and juicy for quite some time, even after leaving the stove.

The beef itself is tender and savoury, while the generous heap of foods offer a little bit of everything: the tangy paté that melts in your mouth, the chunky and meaty sausages, and the rich eggs with creamy yolks that can be spread through the entire dish.

When eaten with fries, salad or a hot baguette (which can be used to dip into the juicy meat sauce in the pan), the already delicious pan of bò né becomes irresistible to many diners hungry for a quick and filling meal.

However, the sizzling hot pan not only keeps the food tasty, but also makes the dish somewhat thrilling to eat.

Le Phong Dang Khoi, owner of the Bò Né 3 Ngon restaurant chain in HCM City, said that “an important criterion for bò né is that they are sizzling hot, so people around them may have to dodge the splattering oil droplets. That’s why it’s called bò né (dodging beef steak)”.

In fact, in sizzling beef restaurants, customers suddenly flinching after a hot pan of beef is placed in front of them is a rather common sight. 

Bo ne: cheap and tasty, yet a thrilling dining experience
A roaring flame is typically seen whenever chefs prepare a pan of bo ne, along with the sizzling, appetising sound of ingredients being cooked. – VNS Photos Viet Dung

Humble origins


“This dish originated as a vendor street food and is very simple. It was meant for students and labourers,” said the owner of the 8-year-old chain.

Indeed, a brief examination of the dish’s ingredients quickly reveals that the dish is not exactly a pinnacle of Vietnamese cuisine.

The beef itself is typically not a high-end beef cut served in fancy restaurants. The sausages and paté, while certainly tasty, are nothing too special either.

However, this means that the dish is quite reasonable, while still being filling and tasty.

Combined with the fact that most sizzling beef restaurants are typically open all day, it is no wonder that the dish is a popular choice of families, students and groups of friends.

Nguyen Trong Hiep, a diner at Bò Né 3 Ngon, said that he typically eats here once a month and likes to shred the baguette to small pieces and use them to scoop up all the savoury sauce, egg yolk and melted paté.

Different restaurants have their own ways to spice up their steak. Aussie Meat in District 10, for instance, is a 7-year-old restaurant which also sells fresh Australian beef cuts.

“I don’t season my fresh beef. Our meat is served with homemade green pepper sauce for dipping. I also make my own pate instead of buying it elsewhere,” said restaurant owner Cuong.

He also noted that in the morning he typically serves students, while he encounters more families in the weekend.

While sizzling beef may not be the same as a fancy, high-end steak, it certainly deserves a try. Just make sure not to wear anything that you would rather not get oil splattered on!  VNS