Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

By • May 23, 2014 24 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.)

More Great Recipes: Cabbage|Shrimp|Cucumbers|Fish|Salads

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Comments (24) Questions (0)


17 days ago lois

I've been searching for the perfect easy/comfort food/noodle dish and this is the closest I've come so far. So many dishes like this feature a strong sesame taste, which I don't care for. I used a serrano chile in the dressing, cut the fish sauce to 2T, and added about 1T of peanut butter. For the vegetables I used cabbage (more than the recipe calls for) and use-it-or-lose-it broccoli slaw that were in the fridge, and then some leftover grilled chicken breasts. Very good. I'm looking forward to lunch tomorrow already!


about 1 month ago michelle_a

Killer recipe - I tripled the serving & it was a huge hit. No substitutions, made as is. Paired with miso coleslaw & chinese bbq ribs. Dinner party of 8 raved about this salad.


about 1 month ago Agnes

loved this recipe. another winner with my friends!


2 months ago EM-MV

I love this recipe, for the flavors and the flexibility of ingredients. But are you sure one bird's eye chili is really what I want to use? Seems like a very hot pepper for this salad. I used about half a serrano pepper and that was good, hot enough for me and not too hot for others. A bird's eye chili is about 10 times hotter than a serrano.


3 months ago Suma Chandrasekaran

Even better the next day! Especially the meat (I used beef) which had a chance to soak up the flavor of the dressing a little bit


3 months ago ivygreene

Love this dressing! served it tonight with shaved brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, Pixie orange slices, and....because I live in Los Angeles...avocado. Will try grapefruit next time.


3 months ago twinjadojo

YES! I love that this ended up being equal parts vege and noodles. We topped it with thin slices of grilled pork tenderloin, bathed in Charles Phan's Sweet Lemongrass Marinade. Please and thank you.


3 months ago grahampositive

I have made this three times in a week! Twice without noodles, just as a crunchy raw vegetable salad, and today with the noodles and added sliced bok choy it is even better. SO GOOD, I can't imagine I'll ever tire of it! Thank you!


3 months ago Barbara Bolls-Guillory

This was tasty, and it's now a part of my go-to weekly meals! Love the flavors and contrasting textures, as well as the ease of preparation.


8 months ago JNunn

NOT vetetarian!


about 1 year 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!


about 1 year 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.


about 1 year ago eakesin

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


about 1 year ago Marlaice

This is wonderful, thank you!


about 1 year ago EmilyC

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


about 1 year 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.


about 1 year 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!


about 1 year 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.


about 1 year ago Kerryloves2travel

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


about 1 year ago Antigoni Sander McCloud

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


over 1 year 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!


over 1 year ago Green Rider

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