Yield
Serves 4
Adapted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham (HarperCollins, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Mai Pham.

Yield: Serves 4

The last time I was in Saigon, I went back to the lively Cho Vuon Chuoi market near our house. I was so excited to find the same stall that my mother used to take me to for noodles. The lady who once fed me had retired and her daughter had taken over. After squeezing myself onto a low community bench in front of the hot charcoal stove, I found myself indulging in a delectable bowl of noodles with beef that had just come off a sizzling pan. These days, this dish remains a favorite, both for lunch and for a light dinner. For a delicious variation, try it with shrimp or pork.

If there's one dish that exemplifies just how flavors and textures are contrasted in Vietnamese cuisine, it would have to be bun. Made with small rice vermicelli layered on a bed of shredded fresh herbs and greens, it can be served with a variety of meat or seafood toppings. In Vietnam, bun is usually a meal in itself but it certainly can be served in smaller, appetizer-sized portions.

Note on Noodles: Ideally bun should not be refrigerated, because the noodles become dry and stiff. However, if you need to, store the noodles and greens separately. Just before serving, reheat the noodles (preferably in a microwave oven) just until slightly warm. This will help them become soft and a little sticky again.

Note on a Bun Meal:To create a complete bun meal, make this recipe and serve it with a topping. Make sure that the noodles are completely dry before assembling the bowls. Otherwise, the noodles with not adequately soak up the sauce.

Ingredients

  • Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs, ready for serving in noodle bowls

Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs:

  • 2/3 pound small dried rice vermicelli (bun)
  • 2 cups shredded red- or green-leaf lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1/3 cup cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/3 cup green or red perilla leaves, fish mint, or mint leaves, cut into thirds
  • 1/3 cup Asian basil leaves, cut into thirds

Topping:

  • 2/3 pound beef sirloin or another tender cut, thinly sliced into bite-sized strips
  • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

Garnishes:

  • 2 tablespoons Scallion Oil (recipe)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped Roasted Peanuts
  • 1 1/2 recipes Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (recipe)

Instructions

Topping:
  • 1. Combine the beef, lemongrass, oyster sauce, and fish sauce in a bowl and let the meat marinate for 20 minutes.
  • 2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the red onion and stir for 1 minute, then add the meat. Stir and cook until the meat is cooked and the onion is soft, 3 to 4 minutes.
  • 3. To serve, divide the beef topping among the 4 prepared noodle bowls. Garnish each bowl with 1/2 tablespoon Scallion Oil, 1 tablespoon peanuts and about 1/4 cup dipping sauce. Toss several times before eating.

Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs (Bun Voi Rau Thom):

  • 1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and stir gently to loosen them. Cook until the noodles are white and soft but still slightly resilient, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Gently fluff the noodles and set them aside for at least 30 minutes. The noodles should be dry and sticky before serving.
  • 2. Gently toss together the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, perilla, and basil leaves. Divide the salad mixture among 4 bowls. Top each with one-quarter of the rice noodles. The bowls are now ready for the topping.