Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad Bowl

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad-9

One thing I love about traveling is that I get to read. As much as we all love to be connected, it’s nice to be somewhere – like 5000 feet up in the air, where your biggest concern is who gets the armrest – where that isn’t usually a possibility. (Although I also spend a considerable amount of time up there wondering if whoever designed those airplane seats ever had to spend twelve hours in one.) After plowing through a formidable stack of New Yorkers (my goodness, those writers are prolific!) that I’ve amassed over the last few months, during some recent travels, I attacked a few of the books that I had stacked up on my nightstand.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

I had gotten a preview copy of Delancy: A man, a woman, a restaurant, a marriage, and had read the nearly finished book in galley form, to provide a quote. But it was a different – and more pleasurable experience – to curl up (as best I could, in a plane seat) with the actual book, and relive the story of how Molly Wizenberg, and her husband Brandon, opened a pizza restaurant in Seattle, and lived to tell the story. Which was not without lots of angst, and a bit of anger.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

At one point, Molly breaks down, which I can also attest to, is inevitable during the emotionally and physically draining process of opening a restaurant. Having opened two places myself (for other people), they were the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. Although it’s been a few decades, I can still remember having an emotional breakdown when a sauce I was trying to perfect, over the course of two angst-filled weeks, didn’t work.

When the owner tasted it, and said (yet once again…), “No, this isn’t right”, I hid in the bathroom until I could pull myself together. If I remember correctly, the chef had to talk me out of there. It was the equivalent of what the police call a “jumper”, which requires a call to an expert, to intervene, and oh-so-delicately talk them back to reality

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

But even if you’ve not had the pleasure of being curled up in the fetal position, in a corner, reduced to a quivering heap over a sauce, Delancey is a great read, as Molly recounts her life just as she met her husband. Then continuing, through their subsequent decision to open a restaurant, not glossing over the renovations they took on by themselves, with plenty of other challenges along the way. It’s hard to capture the craziness of it all, but the book has some pretty spot-on observations and I found myself laughing out loud at how spot-on they were.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

But instead of being a downer, it’s an inspiring story and memoir. In her occasionally self-effacing manner, Molly recounts her neuroses about keeping the wine glasses sparkling, to changing her mentality from “home cook” to “restaurant cook”, which requires some shifting of perception. And more importantly, a dialing up of what’s needed to prepare for a night of feeding others, which she learned the hardest way possible.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

When I was recently in Seattle, I got to spend some time at Delancey. Unfortunately for me, they’re not open for lunch. But for them, it’s the key to remaining sane – and staying together. Still, when your book arrives and (I’m sorry to do this to you…) a picture like this is tucked inside, you kind of want to plan a trip to Seattle, just for a slice of that perfectly blistered pie. Don’t you?

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Recipes, to food writers, help tell the story. So instead of pizza recipes, Molly shares dishes they sustained themselves on while creating their restaurant, and a few that she served guests once they opened, while Brandon made the pizzas. And if you read the book, you’ll understand why it’s hard to replicate his pizza anywhere else. But everything else is the book is do-able at home.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Not to mention a spoiler, but in addition to surviving the opening a restaurant, I share Molly’s love of Vietnamese rice noodle salads. They’re called bò bún, in France, and Bún bò elsewhere, when made with beef. I tried to find out why it gets reversed in French (mostly so that people will stop correcting me on social media when I post pictures of the bò bún I’m eating at Vietnamese restaurants in Paris), but so far, I’ve had no luck.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

But no matter what you call it, it’s one of our favorite meals, one-bowl, or otherwise. And it’s very easy to make; just cook some rice noodles, chop up some vegetables, add a favorite meat or tofu, and some sauce, and stir.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

2-3 servings

Adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

I added Chinese roast pork (char siu) to mine. (You can do the same by marinating boneless pork loin in jarred char siu sauce, or make your own.) Boneless chicken, crispy tofu, or cooked shrimp, would work well, too.

Often nems (spring rolls) are added to salads like this. Most Asian shops sell them, or you can make your own (I linked to some recipes, below), if you want to use them. Molly adds fried shallots to hers, which you can also get already made in Asian stores, although she slyly admits the canned onions sold in supermarkets are fine, too. But like the fried spring rolls, those can be optional as well. I took it upon myself to fry up both because I was feeling adventurous.

To do so, heat an inch (3-4cm) or so of vegetable oil in a saucepan to between 275ºF to 325ºF (135ºC to 160ºC), then drop in the spring rolls, turning them as they cook. When well-browned, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. (You can instead bake the spring rolls by rubbing or brushing them with vegetable oil, and baking them in a 375ºF/190ºC oven on a baking sheet, turning them a couple of times, until crisp – about 10 minutes or so.) Fry the shallots by peeling 4 to 6 shallots, and slicing them thin. Drop them in hot oil, stirring them frequently, until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels. (The shallots can be made a few days in advance. Once cool, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Authenticity probably dictates using a Thai bird’s eye chile, but I used the red one shown in the post since that was what was available, which was blazing hot. So adjust accordingly to what’s available and your desired level of heat. The sauce is called Nuoc cham and various recipes abound, with different amounts of fish sauce, lime juice, and sweetness. Some have garlic, while others don’t. I tried it both ways, and decided that the garlic took the sauce in another direction. So I’ll leave that up to you.

The sauce

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 ½ tablespoons light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (125ml) water
  • 1 Thai bird’s eye chile, minced, or 1 teaspoon minced red chiles (or to taste)
  • optional: 1 small clove garlic, peeled and minced

The salad

8 ounces (225g) thin rice noodles
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Half a cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
8 to 12 ounces (225g to 340g) cooked meat or tofu
A handful of fresh mint, cilantro, or Thai basil, or a combination
1/3 cup (50g) roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

8 to 12 ounces (225g to 340g) cooked meat, shrimp, or tofu

optional: 4-5 fried spring rolls
optional: fried shallots

1. To make the sauce, in a small bowl or jar, mix the lime juice with 2 tablespoons fish sauce, brown sugar, water, minced chiles, and garlic, if using. Mix well, then taste, adding more fish sauce, if desired.

(The sauce can be made up to one day ahead, and left at room temperature. If using garlic, add that shortly before serving.)

2. To make the salads, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles and cook until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse the noodles very well with cold water. Shake the colander to remove excess water, then spread the noodles out on a clean kitchen towel to cool.

3. Divide the noodles into two or three serving bowls. Top each with carrots, cucumbers, and meat or tofu. Coarsely chop, or tear, the mint, coriander, or basil into pieces and strew the herbs over the tops of the salads.

4. If serving with spring rolls, fry the rolls, then slice the warm rolls into bite-size pieces and arrange them around the noodles. Add fried shallots, if using, then serve with sauce on the side, letting people help themselves.

Related Links and Recipes

Nuoc cham (Viet World Kitchen)

Pork Char Siu (No Recipes)

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Wandering Chopsticks)

Le meilleurs bo bun de Paris (The best bo bun in Paris) (Le Figaro, in French)

Olympic Seoul Chicken

Top des bo bun de Paris (Top bo bun in Paris) (Le Bonbon, in French)

Vietnamese Noodle Salad Bowl (Heather Christo)

Teriyaki Chicken

48 comments

  • I love bo bun so much. It is really not difficult to make, but it’s the kind of thing I love to eat in a restaurant or cantine. There are some really good Vietnamese places down in the 13th arrondissement! Love making it down there!

  • Maybe it’s like how they reverse Walkie Talkie (Talkie Walkie)?

  • This looks so delicious David! I also loved your recipe in The Sunday Times this week! :)

  • So…I read your post from France to find out about a great book from an author in my own backyard. It’s a small world after all…Thank you David!

  • You know, I’ve never ventured too much into asian dishes, but I feel like I should get something like this dish a try. Seems easy, fresh, and not too heavy on the calories. Thanks for sharing man!

  • It is great summer food. I slice ginger very thin on my mandoline and then
    Julienne into thin shreds and add it to the sauce.

  • The cilantro, peanuts and Chinese roast pork are inviting. Very nice recipe, looks amazing.

  • Have you been to Le Petit Cambodge? Of course you have, but just for everyone else: http://www.lepetitcambodge.fr/LPC/Accueil.html I like it because it’s just down the street from Helmut Newcake so I can get all my gluten-free goodies in the same place. And of course because their Bobun Special Crevettes is to die for – and the wine is quite good as well.

  • I LOVE bò bún, but I’ve never even considered making it at home! It’s definitely going on my list…

  • Your comment about the book, “Delancey”, reminded me of a book I read about a guy in NYC who opened up an Italian restaurant and the problems he had doing that. It was called, “A Man and His Meat Balls”.
    Just bought a second copy of “The Sweet Life in Paris”. Gave the first one away as a gift.

  • Yes! I love bún! It is the go to dish for the summertime! The Vietnamese herbs are so delicious in these dishes. I just have one correction. The word bò means beef in Vietnamese. So, the dish Bún Bò is noodles wih beef. With BBQ pork, this dish is called Bún Thịt Nướng, noodles with grilled meat. Nevertheless, I am thrilled about the attention to Vietnamese food!

    • Yes, thanks. Actually when I go out, I usually get it with chicken (bun gao) if they’ll make it for me. But most of the places in Paris seem to use pork, beef, or shrimp for some reason.

  • Love Vietnamese noodle bowls! And rice bowls as well. Such simple ingredients but everything gets tied together with the addition of some num choc. The magic of fish sauce :)

  • thank you thank you. I desperately needed some inspiration to get my tired mommy-ass up in the kitchen to make dinner tonight. voila!

  • This recipe looks very appetizing and I will definitely cook it for the family. Thrilled to see your recipe in The Sunday Times yesterday, another must make!

  • Hi David
    I plan on making this for a function for 50+ people. Do you have any tips for preparing the the rice noodles in advance in such quantities? I’m afraid the noodles will get sticky while they are cooling.
    Any tips for cooking noodles and pasta in large quantities?

  • Why vegetable oil which I seldom use. Lard is so much better imo.

  • those photos of the noodles on the towel and the rosy onions – just gorgeous!

    and now i know what i’m making for dinner tonite! thanks!

  • I’m making this right now.

    Btw, if you’re metrically inclined, take note: 1/2 cup ist about 125 ml, not 250 ml.

    Thanks, I fixed it. – dl

  • You’re my connection to France, Italy…..wherever you go.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

    You’re AWESOME

  • I too adore Vietnamese noodle salads. The contrast of crunchy vegetables and noodles with the fishy limey sauce if fabulous. I love it with thinly sliced grilled Vietnamese pork, would you by any chance have a good recipe?

    Years ago, I took a Vietnamese cooking class and the instructor used coconut soda instead of water the nuoc cham, it added a delightful ” je ne sais quoi” to the sauce!

  • I will be making this dish this week. It seems like a perfect meal fot a hot summer night.
    Thank you!

  • I never had Bo Bun till I had it at Pho Tai..supposed to be the best in the city.
    Boy was it ever. Totally addictive.

  • I thought nems were gambas or prawns wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried, not spring rolls? I have certainly seen them sold as such.

    When I lived in Paris, nearly 45 years ago now (oh help!) there were lots of Vietnamese restaurants, which is not so unlikely when you remember that it had been a French colony. Some were good, some mediocre, but they were definitely ubiquitous! I wonder if they are still there?

    Your recipe looks great – I was debating adding fish sauce to a salad dressing yesterday, but didn’t, in the end. Maybe I will next time I make one!

  • Your writing-recipes-photos are such an inspiration to a newcomer such as myself. The story draws you in and then the photos tantalize your senses and you create such an atmosphere where you want to be there to taste and discover. You are great. Thank you for such wonderful experiences.

  • Ah David, you are singing sweet sounds with this Vietnamese recipe, so fresh-tasting, delicious and simple. Just so happens I have all of the ingredients at hand to make this, including fresh home grown chillies, mint and garlic.

    I had the honour of attending a small masterclass with chef Luke Nguyen at his Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney recently. He cooked French Vietnamese fusion foods, such as Sardines Farcie.

    Love your work… thanks so much.

  • Thanks for this recipe for my favorite Vietnamese dish!

  • Oh, David, you lead me down such exotic pathways and tempt me to make delightful dishes from all over the world. Thank you for your enthusiasm and talent…and the spirit of adventure that keeps you going.

  • Any bun will do (in a storm). My favorite though, is grilled shrimp, pork, and egg rolls.
    Sometimes I will even eat a little bit of that chopped up green and orange stuff they throw in there.

    I live near Westminster, CA (‘Little Saigon’)…and there are buns galore over there. That place is unbelievable. There must be a Vietnamese restaurant for every 10 people in that town.
    That noodle dish is a real bun (pronounced ‘boone’) to mankind.

    I can’t put that little mark ( ‘ ) over the u. Do you guys pay extra for keyboards that will do that?

  • Made this for dinner tonight with moosewood’s Thai tofu and smitten kitchen’s pickled veggie slaw. Yummy!

  • I was all set to make a very boring salad for dinner tonight with leftover chicken. I saw this today in my email feed, and happened to have the ingredients in my pantry to convert. It was delicious! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  • *Sheepish.* That would be me, having corrected you on bo bun once years ago. It’s grammatically incorrect in Vietnamese, as that would translate to noodle beef, instead of beef noodles. I’m not sure why it’s transposed that way in France, but c’est la vie.

    As for nuoc cham, I only put garlic in if I’m using it as a dipping sauce. For pouring over rice noodle bowls, I omit the garlic and add more sugar. The latter is technically nuoc cham ngot, sweetened fish sauce, although most Vietnamese would just say nuoc cham and we’d know which version depending on the dish.

    • I’m thinking that perhaps because in French, things are often written as “tart of chocolate” (tarte au chocolat), rather than “chocolate tart.” So perhaps that’s the reason it’s Bó bùn, in French?

  • I made this tonight with a bunch of substituions as I didn’t have all the ingredients in the house and was to tired to go to the store. The dish turned out just lovely. Here’s what I did:

    For the dressing used:
    lemon juice instead of lime
    2 TB soy sauce
    omitted the water and the chili
    used 1 TB sweet and spicy chili paste
    used coconut palm sugar instead of the brown

    For the Salad:
    used buckwheat soba noodles instead of rice
    shredded savoy cabbage
    combo of cilantro and basil
    handful of sweet cherry tomatoes
    avocado

    Delicious. Thank you for the inspiration!
    Aria

  • Thanks for sharing this. I made it last night and it was a big hit. Sadly, I fried the shallots and then forgot to use them!

  • @jillbeans, to prep noodles for a large crowd, this is how we Viets do it:

    – cook the rice noodles until soft & still bouncy and not falling apart. Rinse with cold water and drain for a few minutes. The noodles should be on the coolish side, but a bit warmer than room temp.

    -this is the important part: while the noodles are still somewhat loose & moist, pick up (with hands , tongs or chopsticks) a small portion and with a slight twisting motion, make a little bundle or ‘nest’ of the noodle and lay on a large platter or tray. Make another bundle and place next to the other bundle, overlapping, but each individual bundle should be discernible . Repeat this process until the noodles are portioned off. Then cover the platter or tray with a moist clean towel or plastic wrap, until it’s time to eat.

    This process makes individual portions of noodles that can be easily separated and put into individual bowls. All noodles still stick together when they cool and if you don’t bundle the noodles right after cooking, you are going to get one big noodle mess that is impossible to portion out without turning it into mush.

    The toppings (like the meat, vegetables, herbs etc) can be topped per individual tastes. The noodles will loosen up when the dressing is add and everything gets tossed together. Don’t even think about adding oil to keep the noodles from sticking. It’s not necessary, it doesn’ t work, and will basically ruin this rather healthy dish.

    • @BelleD
      Wow thank you so much for your fantastic advise! Yes I would have done the oil thing! Going to practice this!

  • Actually your noodle bowl is not Bun bo, it’s called “bun cha” if it’s served with grilled pork; it’s called “bun nem” if it’s served with spring roll (nem). If it’s served with beef stir fry so now it’s called “bun bo”.
    Thanks for loving Vietnamese food.

  • 10 minutes from Seattle – I think I may just hop over and give the pie a try.

  • When I make this I serve it with either julienned cabbage or romaine lettuce on the bottom of the bowl underneath the noodles. Adds a little more crunch and veggies. Good recipe. Thank you.

  • I made your noodle salad last night for a church potluck. Got wiped out. It was so good. Thank you for the easy recipe. BTW I always make your fruit cake bar. Love it.

  • Well, I did. Go to Seattle to have Delancey’s pizza.
    Actually I went twice, just for that purpose. And looking to go again! OK, I’m in Vancouver so relatively close, but still. But it is SO worth it and so is the book. I bookmarked this salad too…

  • Hi David.
    I’m a fan of your blog and want to say I love the objective form to write your texts.
    Your posts have been of great importance to me and I always come back here for new information.
    Congratulations for the work and wish you luck and success. Thanks for sharing all this with us.

  • So awesome that you love this dish! Looks yummy. Next time you should try it with the vermicelli noodles (made from rice) – which means “bun”. The noodles you use are called “pho” (usually used in the noodles with broth of the same name, or stir-fried) . The reason is “bun” is a lighter dish and thus the smaller noodles show off the lightness better. It also soaks up the sauce better too.

    Also, I soak shredded (or sliced) carrots and sliced cucumbers in vinegar for 30 minutes or more before serving for extra crunch and brightness.

    Can’t wait to read more!

  • Very nice– I made this tonight using poached chicken. Since there would be nothing crispy, I pulled the skin off the chicken (before poaching) and fried it until very crisp, chopped it into strips, and sprinkled it on the salad.

  • Served this salad for lunch for 6 ladies today. I served each component separately and provided large bowls. Ordered roast pork from a local Chinese restaurant. The salad was a hit! Loved it and how easy it was to pull together! Thank you for yet again another fabulous recipe.

  • Made this tonight for my kids on a super muggy, sweaty night. Delightful!