April 24, 2013

Vermicelli Tofu Noodle Bowl

I spent some time in Vietnam, back in 2010. At that moment, I had made a carefully thought-out decision to include chicken in my diet, with the intention to enjoy pho, a Vietnamese soup, as the whole process seemed like a culinary ritual worth experiencing. In Vietnam, people gather at sunrise for morning tai chi, an ancient art practiced with the intent to cultivate physical and psychological well being. Shortly after, street stalls and produce markets start popping up on street corners and in alleys. Quickly, streets become packed with people in search for their next meal. I assume that people have strong preferences towards the most delicious vendors. I used this theory as a basis for making my food decisions. As soon as I witnessed a line beginning to form, I took this as my cue to join in.

At each pho stand, a large pot of broth stands tall and sturdy, bubbling with deliciousness. For a pho based entrepreneur, mornings begin at 3 am. The broth needs to boil and absorb flavors from bones and other various animal bits.  It boils for at least 4 hours, developing flavors, which is why it's so delicious later on in the day. When you order pho in Vietnam, you'll receive a large bowl of broth, with rice noodles and your choice of meat. You must then be very aggressive when searching for a seat. Table and chairs come in one size: tiny. They are plastic, and in the colors red and blue, which seems to have no particular meaning. If you are 6 feet tall, I can guarantee you will find sitting a particular challenge. The tables will be stocked with peppers, spices and sauces. This is your opportunity to flavor up your pho as you like. I truly fell in love with this whole experience.

Once I returned to North American, I gave up chicken. I had little interest in continuing with it. I did not, however, give up pho. I did my research, and found a few restaurants in Seattle that offer a vegetarian version. If you find yourself in an authentic Vietnamese restaurant, the chances of finding vegetarian pho is pretty slim - true pho stock always contains meet - but some of the more North American-style places seem to offer both meat and veggie stock.

Another Vietnamese dish that I happened to stumble upon in my quest for pho was the vermicelli noodle bowl. It is essentially a large bowl filled with thin delicate vermicelli noodles, tossed with cucumber, carrots, cabbage or lettuce, and the meat of your choice (in my case, tofu). It's lightly seasoned with a tangy sweet sauce, and served with a side of thai basil, sprouts, cilantro, and green onions. If you are lucky, you will be offered a variety of condiments on the table just like in Vietnam, so that you can add a little flare of your own.

Lately, I've been thinking about my travels. Recreating scenes, flavors, moments in my mind. Last week, I saw two tiny plastic chairs on the side walk, and I was overwhelmed with a certain feeling of nostalgia.  Some days I just crave the chaos and unpredictability of travel, and today that craving was particularly strong.

serves 2
notes: If you can't find or don't have access to vermicelli noodles, you could substitute for pad thai noodles (rice sticks). It is important to use regular or sprouted tofu. Silken tofu will be to soft for this dish and likely fall apart.

1 English cucumber, julienned
1 cup carrots, peeled and julienned
2 cups cabbage, sliced
1 package of regular or sprouted firm tofu (10 - 16oz), chopped into thin strips (not silken)
2 tbsp oil for frying, canola, olive, safflower, vegetable, etc.
1 - 8 oz pack of vermicelli noodles
1/3 cup sweet chili sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

peanuts, chopped
green onion, sliced
lime wedges

Wash and cut the cucumber into thirds. With a mandoline slicer, julienne the cucumber and carrots. Change the attachment  and slice the cabbage. Set to the side.

Add the oil to a frying pan and heat on medium. Add the chopped tofu and fry until golden brown. Once cooked, place onto a paper towel to soak up any extra grease.

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat. Break the vermicelli noodles into 5 inch pieces. Add to the water and let sit until soft, roughly 4 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, tofu and noodles.

In a small bowl or mason jar, combine the sweet chili sauce and rice vinegar. Drizzle over the salad, and season with salt and pepper. Toss.

Top with chopped peanuts, green onions, cilantro, and lime juice.


  1. Gorgeous!!! This looks amazingly delicious. And I love all of the photographs. So glad to have discovered your site!

  2. I love how wandering upon two plastic chairs can invoke such (delicious) memories. Vietnamese dishes are among my favorite, and I hope to travel there one day to enjoy them properly. In the meantime, I hang onto your beautiful memories, you paint it so vividly.

  3. Sounds great although I would happily make it without frying the tofu.

    1. I imagine that would also be delicious.

  4. Wow its simple. I tried it at home it came it delicious. The only change i have done is, i tried to fry vermicelli with ghee and then continued with your way.

  5. I love it when food evokes such strong memories. This looks beautiful and light and perfect as we move towards summer.

  6. This looks fantastic! So many bright and fresh flavours. I love the photos. So so so pretty!

  7. We eat vermicelli a lot and I love how easy and quick it is to make a meal out of these noodles!

  8. This is exactly the kind of food I crave this time of year.

    At my neighborhood pho place, I order the vegetable pho - the broth is still made from meat bones but it's loaded with bright vegetables. My 13-month-old love it too!

  9. Love this post! you took us back to Vietnam with you . . and this tofu noodle bowl is beautiful and amazing. love this!

  10. Bookmarking this, I'm almost sorry I just had dinner, it looks so yum!

  11. Hi Heather,
    I made this the other night (changed up a few things) and posted a photo on FB. I can't believe the number of comments I rec'd on the photo alone. . I am going to post this and will credit you and link back to your blog. I hope this is ok. I am inspired by your posts and photos all the time. Your photography is breath taking. My jaw drops every time I visit your lovely lovely blog.

    1. Thank you so much Alice. I am glad you enjoyed!

  12. I can't get over how beautiful that opening shot is! This is one of my favorite dishes, and I've been looking for a good recipe. So simple! Can't wait to make it. :)

  13. This recipe is DELICIOUS! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  14. This was delicious! It is my favorite meal and my first time making it at home. My boyfriend said again and again how great it was and that he could eat this once a week. I agree! I modified it a little: added chopped mint leaves and thai basil, and fried the tofu with soy sauce, sriracha, and black bean garlic sauce. So so good. Thank you for the recipe.