Light noodles, deep flavour
While there are many accompaniments to rice noodles, it is better to choose the technique you like best when cooking vermicelli, writes David Tanis
IN Vietnam, the breakfast choice for many is a steaming bowl of brothy purchased from early-morning vendors who dispense the beloved spicy noodle soup until their supply is sold out, then close up shop for the day. For lunch, it may well be noodles again, prepared in a different way. A bowl of room-temperature rice vermicelli, called
may be served with various cookedto-order toppings and bright add-ons for a satisfying, simple meal.
Festooned with lemongrass-scented shrimp, beef or chicken, the noodles are flavoured with (the classic sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce), pickled vegetables and crushed peanuts.
The vital accompaniment to this rice noodle bowl, and many other Vietnamese dishes, is a platter of lettuce leaves and tender, fragrant fresh herbs.
The herb mixture usually includes Thai basil, mint, cilantro, sawtooth or culantro, Vietnamese coriander, fish herb, red perilla and dill, among other lemony, peppery, freshly picked and highly aromatic leaves.
The lettuce leaves are often used as wrappers: One may fill a leaf with herbs, noodles and a bit of meat, roll it into a tight bundle and give it a quick dip in before conveying it mouthward.
A less formal alternative is to incorporate the lettuce and herbs from the beginning.
For example, start with a pile of torn lettuce leaves and herbs in the bottom of each bowl. Add the room-temperature noodles and toppings, then let guests give it a toss with their chopsticks. This gives it a bit more of a salad-like feel.
As far as the cooking of the rice noodles is concerned, choose the technique you like best.
I prefer letting them steep in a pot of boiling-hot water for five to eight minutes, until just done. Others recommend soaking them in hot tap water, which works too but takes a little longer.
And then there are the cooks who prefer to boil them like pasta. In any case, for best results, they must be rinsed in cold water once drained to keep them from becoming mushy or sticky.