Rainbow Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Shrimp and Magic Noodles (Bún thịt nướng tôm). Aromatic shrimp with veggies and perfectly fried spring rolls, all on a bed of vermicelli rice noodles and lettuce. Served with a side of Nước chấm. Magical color-changing noodles are my fun spin on this classic dish.
Rainbow Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Shrimp and Magic Noodles (Bún thịt nướng tôm). Aromatic shrimp with veggies and perfectly fried spring rolls, all on a bed of vermicelli rice noodles and lettuce. Served with a side of Nước chấm. Magical color-changing noodles are my fun spin on this classic dish. What are magic noodles you ask? Well, they are noodles that once you pour the Nước chấm on to them they change color! They go from this rich blue color to a pretty pink/purple color, how? Magic duh!
Ok, not really magic. The secret is in the red cabbage. Red cabbage has a chemical called anthocyanin in it that turns pink/purple in the presence of an acid, while in an alkaline substance (saltwater) it turns blue. My favorite way of showing this magic off is with vermicelli noodles, these thin semi-clear rice noodles just absorb the magic, and seeing that Bún (pronounced like boon) means noodles, why not make them special?
Thịt nướng literarily means baked or barbecued meat, which is why this is a great “lets grill and eat outside” meal, where you can sit in the sun or around the fire pit enjoying the outdoors. You can even pack it for a picnic since it’s best at room temp. But when it’s the middle of winter and there is still about a foot of snow outside with a wind chill in the negatives, barbecuing sounds awful! So instead of the favorable grilled pork for my Bún thịt nướng, my way of still getting those caramelized bits is to sauté shrimp in butter and aromatics.
If the ingredient list looks a little scary, fear not! This is not a difficult dish to make. To keep it easier on me I use fresh veggies instead of having to pickle them unless I have some on hand, which isn’t uncommon. Frozen spring rolls are more common, but if I have lumpia around I’m going to use them. Usually, this dish has fresh mint, I’m not a fan so I keep it out but you don’t have to. My preferred herbs for this are scallions and cilantro. But you do you, that’s the fun of cooking! I feel like the term “traditional” can be very constricting to creativity, so be creative and use lots of colors, like the rainbow!
Let’s talk about Aromatics and Vietnam for a second…
When we talk about Vietnamese food it breaks down to Northern Vietnamese and Southern Vietnamese. Some dishes like Bún thịt nướng have different variations and serving style depending on where in Vietnam it’s coming from. For instance, lemongrass is much more of a southern flavor that isn’t used in the north. Also when serving Bún thịt nướng depending on where you are it’s served differently, In the north, the rice noodles and vegetables are on their own plate and the meat is put in a bowl with the Nước chấm. Where in the south it’s all layered in a large bowl with the Nước chấm on the side for your dipping or dressing needs. This recipe has lemongrass and is served in the same bowl so it’s the best of both worlds.
What is Nước chấm?
Nước chấm is a Vietnamese dipping sauce that is made from a blend of fish sauce, water, sugar, and citrus. Which is how it has the ability to change the color of the noodles. Since Nước chấm is everywhere in Vietnamese cooking, it’s usually referred to as just “dipping sauce”. Usually, it’s much paler in color than the deep brown that my Nước chấm is. The difference is the kind of fish sauce you use. I use the one with the squid on it because it’s not actually fish, it’s squid. I just prefer it over others and that’s my personal preference. Again, you do you boo and use whatever fish sauce you like, but don’t leave it out! Just know that it tastes so much better than it smells and is essential in these styles of dishes.
All the Vietnamese Noodles (Bún thịt nướngs) that can be.
Bún thịt nướng (grilled pork)
Bún thịt nướng chay (Vegetarian – using tofu in place of meat)
Bún thịt nướng bò (rice noodles with grilled beef)
Bún thịt nướng tôm (with grilled prawns)- like this recipe
Bún thịt nướng chả giò (with egg rolls)
- 2 tablespoons Butter, unsalted
- 3 to 4 cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons Lemongrass, minced
- 1 to 6 Thai Chili, sliced thin
- 1 pound Shrimp, medium sized
- 2 teaspoons Honey
- 2 teaspoons Fish Sauce
- 1 cup Red Cabbage, minced
- 3 bunches Vermicelli Noodles
Nước chấm or Dipping Sauce
- 1/4 cup Fish Sauce
- 1/2 cup Sugar
- 2/3 cup Water
- 2 tablespoons Lime Juice, freshly squeezed
- 2 teaspoons Rice Wine Vinegar
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 small Thai Chili, thinly sliced
Toppings - Add as much or Little of these as you'd like
- Red Color - prepared Shrimp
- Orange Color - Carrots, julienned
- Yellow Color - Bean sprouts
- Yellow Color - Spring Rolls, one or two per bowl
- Green Color - Lettuce
- Green Color - Cilantro
- Green Color - Cucumbers, julienned
- Purple Color - Red Cabbage, julienned
- Clean, de-vain, and peel the shrimp.
- In a large frying pan (big enough to not crowd the shrimp, or cook in batches) add the butter, garlic, lemongrass, and chili. Turn the heat on medium allowing the butter and aromatics to steep together until fragrant.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high heat then add the shrimp,. Make sure they're in a single layer and not crowded to encourage golden brown edges, about 3 minutes.
- Turn the shrimp over and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the honey and fish sauce. Once the shrimp is cooked remove it from the pan and set aside.
- Chop the red cabbage doesn't have to fancy, I find the smaller the pieces the faster the color leach out. It will all be strained out.
- In a large stockpot, salt about 8 cups of water until it tastes like the sea, then add the cabbage. Bring to a simmer and cook until the water is a deep blue/purple color. Strain the cabbage, but keep the water, returning it to the stove to a boil.
- In a large heatproof bowl, add the dry noodles and pour just enough of the boiling water over the noodles so they are completely submerged. You will know they are done once they are bright blue and soft, about 10 minutes, but read the package for a better idea of how long your noodles should cook.
Nước chấm or Dipping Sauce
- In a small saucepan add water, sugar, garlic, and chili. Bring it to a simmer, all you're doing is cooking the "fresh flavor" out of the garlic and the chili, make sure the sugar is fully dissolved (2-3 minutes). Once it is removed from heat, put it in a heatproof bowl.
- Add the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and place in the refrigerator to chill.
- Pan-fry the spring rolls (or air-fry) until cooked through, golden brown and crispy. One (or two) per bowl, cut the spring rolls into fourths.
- In 4 large soup bowls, start building layers starting with the lettuce on the bottom, then the noodles.
- Then start adding the toppings in decorative arches (like a rainbow), stripes (like the pride flag), or whatever your creative eye wants. Make sure to not fully cover the noodles or you won't be able to see the magical change of color when you add the sauce.
- Serve with about 2 tablespoons of Nước chấm on the side, add to taste before eating. Pour or dip into the sauce, it's all up to you! Can be served at room temp or chilled.