Vietnam is a noodle lover’s paradise. There are so many different kinds of noodles and noodle preparations that I bet you could do a fun noodle eating tour of the country from one end to the other. Whereas most noodles in the West are made from wheat, noodles in the East feature wheat, rice, buckwheat and starches, such as tapioca, mung bean and sweet potato starch. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. In Vietnam where rice is the primary grain, rice noodles come in various sizes and shapes.
You likely know round bun rice noodles served in noodle bowl salads but if you don’t already know about bánh hỏi, a fine rice noodle that borders on being vermicelli, you should explore them too. Originally from the south-central coastal province of Binh Dinh, delicate bánh hỏi rice noodles resemble thin woven rectangular pads. They are simply made of rice, water and salt so they’re gluten-free.
Reminiscent of South Asian string hoppers in appearance, the Viet noodles are tender but with a chew because they’re made with a fermented rice batter. Bánh hỏi fine rice noodles are often paired with grilled seafood, roast pork or duck, and grilled meaty dishes. The noodles lend a plushness to the meat. They’re at home as part of sumptuous lettuce-and-herb-wrap meals.
Banh Hoi Beauty and Practicality
Bánh hỏi are a special event food because for many years, good renditions were hard to find. As I’ve written in a Vietnamese noodles 101 article, the fresh noodles were elusive. You’d encounter them at weddings, birthdays, death anniversaries and similar kinds of celebrations. You bought bánh hỏi as freshly made noodles from hardcore Little Saigon markets or businesses specializing in Vietnamese rice noodles. They are often labeled “fine rice vermicelli”
Dried bánh hỏi have been around but the earlier versions were not good enough for me to recommend. That’s no longer the case. Nowadays, there’s great dried bánh hỏi made in Vietnam and increasingly available at Chinese and Little Saigon markets. Compared to the fresh version, these dried ones are a bit more chewy but boy, they are fantastic to keep on hand. For serving, bánh hỏi are typically topped with green onion (scallion) oil for rich flavor and handsome appearance.
So, if you want a Vietnamese treat that’s out of the ordinary, bánh hỏi is for you! The dried noodles take less than 5 minutes to prep. And, once they’re prepped, they can sit at room temperature for hours! They’re great for summer-time eating when you don’t want to heat up the house. And, they’re impressive for entertaining. That’s a lot to derive from a dried noodle that you can keep in the cupboard. Here are tips for finding the noodles, cooking, and serving them up.
How to Find Bánh Hỏi Noodles?
Shop at a Little Saigon market or a Chinese market that caters to a large Viet clientele. Bánh hỏi are yet to be widely sold online but maybe someday. At the store, specifically look for packages containing wiry woven-looking pieces of noodles. The pieces are roughly 2 by 3 inches rectangles. Sometimes you may find colorful versions tinted with magenta or pandan leaves. They are pretty but they do not alter the flavor of the noodles.
The noodles keep indefinitely and seem very sturdy. Brands that I’ve tried and purchase often are Three Ladies and Three Bamboo, pictured above. They’re both made in Vietnam. There are other good brands so if these aren’t available, trust your favorite Asian and pan-Asian markets to select equality good brands, even if they are unfamiliar to you.
How to Prepare Bánh Hỏi (Video Tip)
Prepping dried bánh hỏi can seem weird on the first and second tries. Here’s a video to walk you through how to do it! After watching the video, use the blueprint to make your own noodle magic. NOTE: I use the timing specified on the packages of the brands that I usually buy. If your brand uses a different timing, use what it prescribes to see if it works well. Then tinker with things.
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How to Refresh Leftover Bánh Hỏi
The noodles taste best the day you rehydrate them. However, if you have leftover noodles, cover them well or transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate up to two days. Because bánh hỏi are made of rice, they will harden once chilled. To revive, re-plate them (if needed), spritz with water, and microwave them in 30 second blasts, until softened and warm. Or, repeat the dunking in just-boiled water for 1 or 2 seconds, drain, and re-plate. Serve the noodles at room temperature.
Bánh Hỏi Serving Suggestions
The noodles are fabulous with grilled meats and seafood, roasted duck, and shrimp on sugarcane. I’ve also served them with grilled vegetables. They’re typically served as lettuce-and-herb wraps. You may try them with many of the foods that you would put into banh mi sandwiches or bun rice noodle bowls. For ideas check my books, especially The Banh Mi Handbook, Vietnamese Food Any Day and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. On this website, may I suggest serving banh hoi with:
- Char siu pork skewers (swap the chicken for pork, if you like)
- Lemongrass pork steaks
- Lemongrass tofu
- Grilled lemon basil chicken (substitute your favorite basil)
- Grilled shrimp on sugar cane (chao tom)
Grilled or seared mushroom and other veggies would work well too. Season them aggressively so they pop with flavor! You may also head to a Chinese barbecue shop for a duck or crispy pork belly! While the noodles are similar to round bún rice noodles, their smaller shape and size yield a distinctive eating experience. If you have bánh hỏi experience, share it below!