Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

By • May 23, 2014 • 15 Comments

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Author Notes: Excerpted from DELANCEY, by Molly Wizenberg (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

During Delancey's gestation, and for a long time after it opened, we ate a lot of takeout. One of our favorite quick, cheap lunches was (and still is) a Vietnamese rice noodle salad called bun, and we like it enough that now, sometimes, we even make our own version at home. Don't be put off by the number of steps. The dressing, a take on nuoc cham, can be made a few days ahead, and if you've got the ingredients on hand and the dressing prepared, you can bang this meal out in very little time.

This salad is wide open to adaptations and a great vehicle for using up leftovers or odds and ends. Take the recipe and run with it, using whatever vegetables and cooked meats you have on hand.

(And though it changes the whole concept, try substituting hot freshly cooked rice for the noodles. We do that often. I like to use Calrose, an inexpensive Japanese-style medium-grain rice that's grown in California and commonly sold in Asian grocery stores.)

Serves 2 to 3

The dressing

  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons water, to taste
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh Thai (also sold as "bird's eye") chile, minced

The salad

  • 8 ounces thin rice noodles (roughly the width of linguine)
  • 3 or 4 napa cabbage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1 handful chopped fresh herbs, preferably a combination of basil, cilantro, and mint
  • 8 ounces cooked meat or shrimp, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  1. To prepare the dressing, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, 6 tablespoons of the water, the garlic, and the chile. Whisk well. Taste: if it's too pungent, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If you'd like more sweetness, add more brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon at a time. Remember that you're going to be putting this dressing on unsalted vegetables and noodles: you want the dressing to have a lot of flavor, but it shouldn't knock you over. Pour into a serving bowl. (Covered and chilled, the dressing will keep for 3 days to a week.)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Immediately drain the noodles into a colander, and rinse them well with cold water. Lay out a clean kitchen towel on the countertop, shake the colander to drain away excess water, and then spread the cooked noodles on the towel to drain further.
  3. Divide the noodles between two or three good-sized bowls, depending on the number of diners, and top with the vegetables, herbs, and meat. Scatter the peanuts on top. Allow each person to spoon on dressing to taste. Toss well, and eat. (Alternatively, you can present this salad family-style: Toss the vegetables, herbs, and noodles in a mixing bowl and then mound them on a serving platter. Arrange the meat over the noodles, and top with peanuts. Each diner can scoop their own portion from the platter and dress it as they see fit.)
Jump to Comments (15)

Comments (15) Questions (0)


about 1 month ago JNunn

NOT vetetarian!


6 months ago ErinC

Great recipe! Used leftover Spicy Shrimp (from Food52 contributor Helen) as the protein and it was super delicious. Liked the freshness of the herb medley and the tart/tanginess of the dressing. Highly recommend!


8 months ago Marlaice

I found this in the vegan section, it sounds delicious but is fish sauce vegan? If not, what could be used to substitute? Thanks.


7 months ago eakesin

I have used the following recipe to prepare a vegan fish sauce and it has worked well:


7 months ago Marlaice

This is wonderful, thank you!


9 months ago EmilyC

Made this recently for dinner, and it's lovely. I'm so happy to have this in my rotation for the summer.


9 months ago Lisa

Made this for dinner on a super hot beach day. Delish! Next time I'll try fresh grated ginger and perhaps 1T peanut butter in the dressing to give it a bit more depth.


9 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

I also ate this with out the noodles, so it really was more of a chicken salad, and that was great too!! Make extra dressing cause you can get several meals out of it!


9 months ago JadeTree

This is a delicious, herbaceous summer meal! The dressing is perfect and I slightly increased the proportion of vegetables. Delightful! As a note, I only had the vermicelli size rice noodles so used those and while they tangle up a lot, they are still delicious. This will be an all-summer affair.


9 months ago Kerryloves2travel

Perfect for girls weekend away light dinner. Making this for our trip, WIth a Moscow Mule or chilled white wine,,,dig in!


9 months ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

This was the best summer lunch! This is going to be part of the regular rotation for sure!!!


9 months ago JessieV

WHOA - made this for dinner and will make it again for lunch tomorrow - we loved it so much we didn't have leftovers! thank you!


9 months ago Green Rider

Thanks for providing this recipe. I love Thai cold noodle salad and this one looks perfect!


9 months ago JPyyyy

Couldn't make this without ginger in the dressing and some green onions in the mix.


9 months ago Salvegging

can't wait to try this!