What beer is to Germany, noodles are to Vietnam. The variety of noodles and the dishes they are used in could be comparable to the variety of pasta in Italian cooking; each distinctive in flavor, color and sometimes geographic regions.
Knowing the differences between noodle types is an integral part of fully exploring and enjoying Vietnam’s flavorful cuisine. Here are the five noodle types that are used in breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes one can expect to come across during a trip to Vietnam:
Bún (Boon) Rice Vermicelli Noodles
These are thin, white-colored and round rice noodles. These, sometimes sticky, noodles are very popular in Central and Northern Vietnam and are served with a variety of dishes and any kind of protein. Although Bún is commonly eaten in a bowl and served with some kind of broth, it is not a starch that is exclusively used in soups. One of the better-known dishes using these noodles is “Bún Chả”; a dish said to have originated in Hanoi, consisting of bún served with grilled pork, herbs, and dipping sauce. Bún Chả is what former President Obama ate with Anthony Bourdain, during the president’s trip to Vietnam.
Often mistaken for the sole word for the dish/soup “Phở”, it actually is the name describing the type of noodles used in this national dish. Phở are relatively wide white rice noodles (similar look to fettuccini). Not limited to use in the aforementioned soup, Phở noodles are also very popular for use in stir-fried dishes, and can be found in a myriad of sizes; including square and rectangular sheets. However, Phở noodles will always be flat and wide and are popular nationwide.
These wheat flour noodles are usually white or yellow-colored, depending on whether the noodles were made with eggs as an ingredient (yellow=eggs). Comparable to the Chinese Chow Mein noodle, Mi is typically used in soups and stir fries, with “Mi Ga” (chicken noodle soup) being a ‘must try’ treat.
Arguably one of the more flavorful noodle variety, the yellow Mi noodles are also the unhealthier choice, given the quantity of egg-yolks and the associated cholesterol consumed.
Miến, a glass noodle similar to Bun in shape, is made from canna starch and/or mung beans, looks grayish when uncooked, and through its slipperiness, one of the more difficult noodles to eat for an untrained chopsticks user. Miến is found most commonly in soups and spring roll fillings throughout Vietnam.
Similar to Japanese udon noodles, Bánh Canh are thick and round noodles made, depending on geography or preference, from a variety of flours including tapioca, wheat and rice flours. Usually used in soups, Bánh Canh are most common in Central and Southern Vietnam. These noodles are a central ingredient in the dish “Bánh canh tôm”; a shrimp-flavored soup mixed with coconut milk.
It is customary in Vietnam for a dish’s name to be preceded by the type of noodle used (examples: Bun Cha, Bun Bo Hue, Bun Rieum etc.)