A cool noodle salad topped with stir-fried vegetables makes a light, refreshing meal. You can cook and cool the noodles ahead of time.
I love noodles—all kinds. But if I had to pick the most endearing noodle, both to my soul and to my palate, it would have to be bun, Vietnamese vermicelli-style noodles. Made from rice flour, water, and salt, these noodles are a beloved staple in my native country. My favorite way to eat them is in what I call a cool noodle salad, a traditional Vietnamese dish (also called bun) of noodles served at room temperature with cool garnishes and warm toppings.
Here in the United States, cool noodle salads translate into perfect summer suppers. The soft rice noodles sit on a bed of cool, crunchy bean sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, and mint, and they're topped with warm stir-fried vegetables, meat, or shrimp.
Drizzled with a lively sauce, bun becomes an intricately flavored dish of contrasting tastes, textures, and temperatures. I adore bun, not only because it exemplifies the freshness and liveliness of Vietnamese cuisine, but also because it makes a satisfying yet healthy meal—something we can all appreciate. The noodles and greens are always served in copious amounts, while the meat is served in smaller, garnish-size portions.
As kids, my sister and I loved these noodle dishes so much that we'd eat them two or three times a week. Walking home from school in Saigon, we would often stop at Chi Ba's popular sidewalk bun stand. Her tiny makeshift restaurant included a squeaky bench that held six customers at most, and a front counter cluttered with baskets of con bun (freshly made noodle "nests") and baskets of shredded greens and fragrant herbs. After squeezing onto the crowded bench, we'd order our usual: bun with grilled pork and beef. Then we'd grab our chopsticks and wait eagerly.