Beef Meatballs (Bo Vien)

Quick Meal or Appetizer - Beef Meatballs in a Light Broth Served with a Hoisin Chili Paste Dipping SauceIf this is your first time trying these Vietnamese meatballs you may be surprised by the consistency.  They are not soft like American or Italian meatballs.  On the contrary, they are springy and sometimes described as “rubbery”–but in a good way.  There’s a specific Vietnamese word “dai” to describe the consistency of these beef meatballs.  The closest translation to this Viet word is perhaps “chewy” but I don’t think this accurately or positively describes the unique texture of these meatballs.  With that said, I hope you’ll try these one of a kind meatballs with an open mind.  In the below recipe, I share the techniques for achieving this desired springiness.  It’s a bit of work and the chilling of the meat throughout the various stages of preparation is essential.  The first time you make them, the meatballs may be soft and mushy but don’t give up!  Practice makes perfect!  Once you figure out the right chilling time (varies with your freezer), processing time (varies with your food processor) and cooking time (varies with the size of the balls), you’ll be able to make perfectly springy and delicious meatballs.  The true test of the success of these balls is to try and bounce them on your counter.  No joke!  If you can get at least one to two good bounces, Congratulations! You have the perfect Vietnamese beef meatballs. Enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

80/20 ground beef is meat that is comprised of 80% meat and 20% fat.  The fat is essential for flavor and juiciness.  You can go a bit leaner if you’d like but some fat is essential for this recipe.

It helps to spread out the meat as thinly as possible so it chills faster.  If you have a metal pan or cookie sheet, use that as it cools quickly.  Also, if your freezer doesn’t have any strange odors, you can leave the pan uncovered and that will speed up the chilling process.

Leave the meat in the freezer as long as possible so that it’s almost frozen but just before it turns into a solid chunk of meat.  (You should still be able to slice through it with a knife or large spoon.)  Depending on the freezer, this could take from 1 – 2+ hours.

Keeping the meat cold during the entire preparation process is key to achieving the springy texture.  Work quickly with processing the meat and then return it to the freezer right away.  Also, be sure to put the meat not yet processed back in the freezer.  If at any point during this entire process the meat gets warm, the meatballs will be soft.

Unless you have a really powerful or professional food processor, divide the meat into smaller portions for processing otherwise you will overwork the motor.  (I’ve had my share of burned-out motors.)

Do not use too much baking powder.  If you do, the meatballs will be nice and puffy immediately after cooking.  However after cooling they will shrivel and look pitiful.

Do not cook the meatballs in rapidly boiling water.  This causes them to lose their round shape.

Don’t skip the step where we dunk the meatballs in cold water after cooking.  This helps to firm up the meatballs and aids in the springy texture as well.

For folks looking to duplicate a restaurant recipe, my apologies, this is not that recipe.  These meatballs will not taste like the restaurant version because we are omitting two very hazardous ingredients commonly used in thie recipe:  MSG and Borax.  I cannot in good conscience share a recipe that uses MSG, known to cause hypertension and other health risks, and Borax, a chemical used in household cleaners and insecticides.  Our health is more important than a tasty meal.

Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Fish Cakes (Cha Ca) and Steamed Pork Roll (Cha Lua/Gio Lua).


1 lb 80/20 ground beef
2 Tbsp ice water
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp potato starch
1/2 tsp beef seasoning
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vinegar


Combine ice water, fish sauce, sugar, potato starch, beef seasoning, pepper in a bowl and stir to dissolve.  Add the baking powder and mix with the marinade.  Add beef to marinade and blend well using your hands.  Mix for about 1-2 minutes.  Do not overwork the meat.  Spread the meat mixture evenly into a large dish or plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.  Freeze for 1 1/2 hours.

Divide the meat into 3 equal batches.   Add the first batch into the food processor.  Place the remaining meat back in the freezer.  Pulse the meat 10 times.  Scrape down the edges of the prep bowl and spread out the meat if it has clumped together.  Processor for 10 seconds.   Scrape around the bowl again.   This is one cycle.  Repeat this pulse/process cycle 2 more times for a total of 3 cycles.  Scoop out the meat and place back in the dish.  Add the next batch and process in the same way.  Remember to return the dish back to the freezer each time you’re processing so the meat doesn’t thaw.

After the third batch is processed, add the first two batches back into the food processor.  Add the vegetable oil.  Process for another 30-45 seconds until thoroughly combined and smooth.

Divide the meat in half and shape into 2-12 inch logs.  Cover with plastic wrap and then freeze for 1 hour.

Remove one log from the freezer.  Pinch off a small amount, approximately 1/2 oz, of the meat mixture and roll into a ball.   Wet your hands with water if they get sticky.

Fill a large bowl with water and add 1 cup of ice and 1 tsp of vinegar.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.  Gently drop all the meatballs into the boiling water.  Turn the heat to Low and simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Gently rotate the balls every few minutes.  Transfer meatballs to ice bath and dunk meatballs in the ice batch for 30 seconds.  Transfer to a colander and allow to drain.

Repeat the same steps for second batch.

Serve this meatballs in soups, noodle soups, stir frys, etc.  If you want to enjoy these meatballs as an appetizer or snack, serve with a Hoisin Plum Dipping Sauce and Satay Chili Paste.

Yields:  32-1/2 oz meatballs

Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen

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34 Responses to Beef Meatballs (Bo Vien)

  1. LeThu February 14, 2019 at 11:50 pm #

    I’m tempting to make this recipe but not sure what kind of beef seasoning?Ty

    • Trang February 15, 2019 at 2:16 pm #

      Hi Le Thu,
      I buy the beef seasoning or beef buillon at the American grocery store. Look for the brand Herb Ox or Knorr. I like the Herb Ox brand as it doesn’t have MSG. Let me know if you any other questions. Good Luck!

  2. Asif Mohamed March 23, 2018 at 1:54 pm #

    I love Vietnamese food, I am going to attempt this, this weekend.

    I love the taste of lemongrass, how can I incorporate it in this recipe? add it to the water, or grind it up into the meat, I don’t want it to affect the texture.

    Thank you.

    • Trang March 24, 2018 at 7:45 am #

      Hi Asif,
      Add the ingredients you enjoy! I love lemongrass too. Finely mince the lemongrass first and then add to the meat during the final processing. Let me know how the recipe turns out for you. Enjoy!

  3. Heidi March 13, 2018 at 8:28 am #

    I followed your instruction to a T. However, the insider almost got the right texture but the outsider
    was softer and not as chewy, and it seemed like to want to break apart. What should I do differently the next time ?.

    Thank You

    • Trang March 16, 2018 at 1:26 pm #

      Hi Heidi,
      Do you think perhaps the meatballs were over-boiled?

      • Heidi March 21, 2018 at 1:35 pm #

        Thank You. No, it seemed loose as soon it hit the water. When I rolled the balls, I couldn’t make it into a solid ball, I could see the separation. Do you think the oil would cause this? or it needs more pressure. Please advise

        • Trang April 9, 2018 at 6:21 pm #

          Hi Heidi,
          It sounds like the paste needs to be rolled a bit tighter. Try with more pressure next time. Good Luck!

    • Sam January 19, 2019 at 10:52 am #

      There is no oil in the recipe. Use water for your hands when forming the meat balls.

  4. Eddie Low December 19, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Your recipe for beef ball is the best among others. Just did my third batch and they are great.
    Many thanks.


    • Trang December 22, 2017 at 9:01 am #

      Hi Eddie,
      I am so glad to hear you like the recipe! Thanks for stopping by to share your comments. 🙂

  5. Cindy Quach December 11, 2017 at 6:49 pm #

    Perfectly snappy and delicious. I was intimidated but you made the recipe easy and simple to follow. Thank you!

    • Trang December 11, 2017 at 6:56 pm #

      Easy peasy! It’s not difficult at all. I am glad you gave it a try and were successful. Thanks for sharing your results. 🙂

  6. Yen July 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

    Hi Trang,

    Do these meatballs freeze well like their restaurant counterparts?

    • Trang July 30, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      Hi Yen,
      Yes, sealed air-tight, they freeze really well. I always have a batch in my freezer to add to my soups. Good Luck! 🙂

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