Last summer was my first time eating bún – a refreshing Vietnamese salad of cold noodles, charred meat and crunchy veggies. It was during a week-long trip to San Diego that I took with Grant to make preparations for our cross-country move.
Between filling out rental applications, we ducked into a neighborhood pho joint. Because we were in the midst of an August heat wave, a steaming bowl of pho didn’t seem like the most appealing option, but I knew I could count on Vietnamese cuisine to offer me something with fresh vegetables. When I opened the menu to a photo of a towering bún, chilled noodles loaded with shredded salad and fresh herbs, that was all I needed to see. I couldn’t have imagined any food more perfect for that moment. We both ordered the same thing – unusual for us – and ate our noodles and drank ice water like it was our job. Since then, I’ve been eager to recreate the dish in my kitchen.
The thing that finally made me try it was a chance encounter in the refrigerated section at Trader Joe’s. Next to their other fresh pastas, they also started to offer packs of fresh rice noodles. I couldn’t resist.
I made a super-simple, pantry-assisted marinade (soy + peanut sauce) for chicken breasts to top my bowl, but any number of proteins would work here: pork, beef, tofu, shrimp… yeah. I’m starting to see more of these in my future. This is a flexible recipe, so don’t be afraid to adapt. The crunchiest, inner leaves of romaine are my top choice for healthy crunch. Shredded carrots are lightly pickled to add an extra layer of sweet/sour flavor. And on top of everything else, slivered green onions and a generous handful of your favorite fresh herbs. Cooking this made me wish there was mint in my herb garden… it would be so perfect. I used cilantro instead, but use whatever sounds good to you.
My dressing is an inauthentic nuoc cham. I had to omit the traditional fish sauce, which is one of the few ingredients that will elicit a full-on mutiny from the boyfriend contingent of my dinner table. I subbed in soy sauce for a little salty umami, and it got the job done. I would have liked to add some finely minced garlic and chili pepper, but didn’t have any on hand. If you do, go for it! If not, it will still be good!
Escape to your kitchen, try something new, refresh yourself!
Fresh Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/4 cup peanut sauce
- 1 12 oz. package of fresh rice noodles or 6 oz. dried
- 1 medium carrot shredded
- 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 3 leaves romaine lettuce shredded
- 1 green onion thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro and/or mint and/or basil
- For the dressing:
- 1 tbsp. lime juice
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp. soy sauce or fish sauce
- 1 clove minced garlic optional
- 1 tsp. minced chili pepper optional
- 6-24 hours before dinner, marinate the chicken in the soy sauce and peanut sauce. Place the marinated breasts on a foil-lined pan, and broil both sides until slightly charred.
- Toss the shredded carrot in a small bowl with the rice vinegar, water, and sugar. In another small bowl, prepare the dressing by mixing together the lime juice, sugar, water, soy sauce, and garlic/pepper if using.
- Cook the rice noodles according to the package’s instructions (for fresh, boil in water for ~1.5 minutes). Drain the noodles and run under cold water before distributing into serving bowls. Top with carrot, lettuce, herbs, sliced chicken and dressing.