If you like crunchy veggies, crisp spring rolls (!), lemongrass chicken or pork, rice noodles, sweet tangy sauce and all things fresh and good, these Vietnamese Noodle Bowls (aka Bun Bowls) are for you.
The noodle dish you see before you is easily among my Top 10 favorite noodle dishes. It is a meal I sought out for lunch many days when we lived in Bangkok and have even enjoyed in a fantastic spot in central Kansas. The great news is that Vietnamese Noodle Bowls (or Bun Bowls) are easy enough to make at home with just a few ingredients that you can find at your local grocery store. Here's how to make them.
How to Make Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
- Marinate protein. Marinate pork, chicken, or tofu in a savory-sweet marinade seasoned with lemongrass, garlic, and cilantro.
- Make Nuoc Cham sauce. Whisk together water, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce to make this classic flavor-packed sauce. Add Bird's Eye Chilis or another spicy ingredient if you'd like some spice.
- Bake spring rolls. Keep things simple and use store-bought frozen spring rolls. Just bake them according to package directions. These also work great with leftover spring rolls (warm the up in the oven to help them crisp up).
- Cook rice vermicelli. Cook rice vermicelli noodles until tender.
- Cook protein. Sear protein until golden and cooked through.
- Assemble bowls. Layer lettuce, rice vermicelli, fresh vegetables, spring rolls, and lemongrass pork, chicken, or tofu.
- Top with peanuts with fresh herbs.
- Serve with Nuoc Cham for drizzling over top.
Ingredients to Make Noodle Bowls
- Protein - Use pork, chicken, tofu, or seitan.
- Marinade - Make a mixture of grated lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, and fish sauce to marinate the protein.
- Nuoc Cham - Make a savory-sweet-tart sauce with sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and a spicy element (if you'd like)
- Spring Rolls - Frozen, store-bought spring rolls make these noodle bowls extra simple. Just bake them according to package directions and chop them into bite-sized pieces. If you want to make them from scratch try Baked Spring Rolls.
- Rice Vermicelli Noodles - These very thin rice noodles are different from Pad Thai Rice Noodles (which are thicker). They are sometimes called rice stick noodles. Most can be prepared just by soaking in hot water until tender.
- Green Leaf Lettuce - Layer a few large lettuce leaves on the bottom of the bowl. They give the bowls a fresh, salad vibe.
- Crunchy Veggies - Any will work but very thinly sliced carrots and cucumbers are classic.
- Roasted Peanuts - Add crunch on top.
- Fresh Herbs - Herbs are always a delicious element of noodle bowls. Add as much or as little as you want.
How to Make Ahead and Store
All of the ingredients for these bowls can be prepped ahead and stored in separate containers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Soak the cooked rice vermicelli noodles in cool water (drain well before using). Reheat the protein in a skillet and the spring rolls in the oven until warmed through.
- Different proteins - Any protein works well here. Try chicken or a plant-based protein like extra-firm tofu or seitan.
- Different cut of chicken - If using chicken, try thinly sliced boneless chicken breast or chicken thighs.
- Spices - These bowls do not need to be spicy, but feel free to add spice if you'd like. You can add the spice with fresh chili peppers or red pepper flakes in the Nuoc Cham or add red pepper flakes to the marinade.
What to Serve with Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
- Pineapple Fried Rice - Fried rice is always a great dish to set out with Bun Bowls.
- Fresh Summer Rolls - Just like the noodle bowls, these are full of fresh, crunchy veggies and pair so well.
- Baked Crab Rangoon - Everyone always loves an appetizer of crab rangoon and dipping sauce.
Favorite Tools for Stir-Fry
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok - This affordable wok is the only one I use. I’ve had it for 10+ years and the only care it needs is to be washed out, dried well, and rubbed with oil before storing.
- Wok Spatula - This spatula fits perfectly around the curved edges of a wok.
- Splatter Screen - Perfect for keeping your stovetop (reasonably) clean.
Vietnamese Noodle Bowls Recipe (Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio)
- Small Mixing Bowl
- Wok or Large Skillet
- 12 ounces Pork Chops, thinly sliced (see note for substitutes)
- 1 stalk Lemongrass, grated or minced (use only the lower root portion of the lemongrass stalk)
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Honey
- 1 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
Nuoc Cham Sauce:
- ½ cup Water
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar
- 2 ½ Tablespoons Lime Juice
- 2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
- 1 Bird's Eye / Thai Chilis, very thinly sliced (substitute Sriracha hot sauce or red pepper flakes; adjust to taste)
- 4 Frozen Spring Rolls (see note)
- 6 ounces Rice Vermicelli Noodles
- 2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil (use canola, peanut, or vegetable oil)
- 1 head Green Leaf Lettuce, chopped
- 1 medium Carrot, sliced into thin matchsticks
- 1 medium Cucumber, sliced into thin matchsticks
- ½ cup Roasted Peanuts, chopped
- 1 cup Fresh Herbs (cilantro leaves, mint leaves, and / or chopped green onions)
- Marinate pork: Combine all ingredients listed under Lemongrass Pork. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to a day.
- Make Nuoc Cham: Whisk all ingredients for Nuoc Cham.
- Bake spring rolls: Preheat oven and prepare spring rolls according to package directions.
- Cook rice noodles: Cook rice noodles according to package direction (most need to soak in very hot water until tender).
- Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, use a slotted spoon transfer pork to heated oil (be careful - it will splatter when it hits the hot oil). Cook pork on one side until deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir pork and continue cooking until it is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more.
- Chop baked spring rolls into bite-sized pieces. Use kitchen shears to chop up rice vermicelli into shorter lengths.
- Assemble bowls with a bed of lettuce topped with rice vermicelli. Arrange carrots, cucumbers, pork, spring rolls, peanuts, and fresh herbs on top. Serve Nuoc Cham on the side. (I like to toss all of the ingredients together in Nuoc Cham before digging in, but some people like to eat each component separate. It's great either way!)