Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

Test Kitchen-Approved

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
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 5 min


For the dressing

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

For the salad

  • 8 ounces thin rice noodles (roughly the width of linguine)
  • 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
In This Recipe


  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:
Salad|Vietnamese|Noodle|Rice|Lime Juice|Spring|Summer|Dinner|Lunch

Reviews (32) Questions (0)

32 Reviews

Karen January 7, 2018
This was a big hit at our table last night. For the dressing, I decreased the fish sauce and water and increased the lime juice — and I used grilled chicken in the salad. Served with homemade scallion pancakes with a complimentary dipping sauce and it made for the perfect meal. Thanks for this recipe, it was fantastic!
Sarah M. September 29, 2017
This was really good! The suggestion to add peanut butter to the dressing was genius! It does draw out an incredible pool of water - will want to eat immediately.
msmely September 4, 2017
I made this with leftover sans onion sauce and halved the recipe to suit our household. The leftover chicken breast worked great as an already-seasoned meat addition, even the meatatarian in my house enjoyed it. I used sambal oelek in place of the bird's eye chili and garlic.

I found this recipe with long noodles was hard to mix together, perhaps it'd be easier to toss if the noodles were broken up a bit. The recipe calls for thin rice noodles but specifies that they're about the width of linguine, this is a medium rice stick noodle or what would similarly be used for pad thai. I do not cook these noodles according to this recipe, I have always had good luck with rice noodles when I submerge them in boiling water from the kettle for 10 minutes and then drain. They end up not overcooked or overly starchy, which is important in recipes like this where they are not going to be cooked more by the process.

I made the dressing exactly to recipe with the more conservative recommendations for water, knowing that drained noodles will retain some extra water and that salt from fish sauce will draw out water. I still ended up with a puddle on the bottom of my bowl but it was not overly salty and overall because of cold process dressing and with the tea-noodle method described above I had no problems with mushiness.

If I were to make this recipe to sit and be served from ie: a buffet I may replace the rice noodles with bean threads since they tend to hold up better in an acidic dressing such as this one laced with lime juice. Serve with a pasta server or something else that will similarly drain sauce while ensuring a reasonable amount of noodle and vegetable topping.

I could have easily handled more fish sauce for saltiness/umami since on first attempt even with dry-roasted salted peanuts it was a bit bland. The recipe admittedly says to do it to taste and I followed exactly without tasting, so heed the header notes about how you're adding this dressing to unsalted vegetables and the salt will draw out moisture and dilute the dressing. I could honestly have handled this recipe with more cabbage and less noodles, but that's also my preference, since I love cabbage.
laurie July 4, 2016
I made a delicious vegetarian version by substitution some grapeseed oil and soy sauce for the fish sauce. I doubled the cabbage and added cubes of trader joe's teriyaki tofu. excellent meal!!
HalfPint June 8, 2016
In my opinion (and I am a totally-biased Viet gal), this salad is best with grilled meats. It was a way to stretch a small amount of protein, so don't go too crazy with the amount meat. This is also very very good with cooked lobster. My mother would make this with 2 lobsters (~2lbs each) and was able to generously feed a family of 7. You only needed to have more noodles, vegetables, and herbs.
Kate S. April 27, 2016
Is it really necessary to insert all that hidden text in your recipes to make impossible a simple copy and paste? Printing out any recipe that requires more than 2 pages is tedious. Not everyone likes using a computer in their kitchen.
Anne August 2, 2016
Why not select the bits you want and copy paste them into a Word document or similar? Then print. I do that and edit them at the same time to suit my tastes/adaptations of the recipe.
Gardener September 11, 2015
This is a perfect and completely satisfying dish bursting with flavor. We enjoyed it on a scorching hot summer day when nothing sounded good. A keeper for sure. Thank you Molly and Brandon.
lois August 18, 2015
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!
michelle_a July 13, 2015
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.
Agnes July 8, 2015
loved this recipe. another winner with my friends!
EM-MV June 21, 2015
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.
Suma C. June 18, 2015
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
ivygreene June 16, 2015
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.
twinjadojo June 12, 2015
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.
grahampositive June 2, 2015
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!
Barbara B. May 30, 2015
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.
JNunn January 6, 2015
NOT vetetarian!
ErinC August 20, 2014
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!
Marlaice July 2, 2014
I found this in the vegan section, it sounds delicious but is fish sauce vegan? If not, what could be used to substitute? Thanks.
eakesin August 12, 2014
I have used the following recipe to prepare a vegan fish sauce and it has worked well:
Marlaice August 12, 2014
This is wonderful, thank you!
EmilyC June 19, 2014
Made this recently for dinner, and it's lovely. I'm so happy to have this in my rotation for the summer.