No, your eyes do not deceive you, this is another Vietnamese cuisine appreciation post. I can’t stop waxing poetic about its wonderful sense of balance. The marriage of raw and charred, herbaceous and sour, sweet and salty. I just love it so much, I can’t believe I lived my first 25 years without it. But I did, so I will kick these Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli Bowls (bún tôm nướng) off with my usual disclaimer. This is not an authentic recipe, this is merely the recipe I have concocted over the past five years of making vermicelli salads or bún in my own home with only YouTube and Google to guide me. All this is to say I am not an expert, just a fangirl.
I love bún dishes, particularly at this time of year. The flavors are light and fresh but hearty enough to be satisfying. And the cook-time is virtually non-existent, making bún extremely heatwave-friendly. But in the age of COVID, I have come to love bún even more.
Restaurant patios have only recently started opening up here and gatherings of 10 or more people are still not permitted. And that group of 10 or fewer must maintain social distancing if they are from separate households. Not exactly the stuff BBQ dreams are made of.
I mention all of this to illustrate that although my city is reopening, my selection of potential dining companions remains narrow. I’m pretty much eating dinner with bae and no one else these days. Now, in terms of company, I am more than happy with this arrangement. Would I love to host and cook for more people? Absolutely! But Sunny and I are more than capable of turning any Thursday into a party – we rather like each other.
But even though I am blessed with sparkling dinner conversation every night, I do miss my seafood-loving companions. I have mentioned (complained) about Sunny’s disdain for seafood a couple (many) times on this blog, so I’ll spare you. All you need to know is the man hates most seafood – shrimp and salmon in particular. And I, well, I really don’t. In fact, I absolutely adore it. Generally, this is not a problem. I simply order seafood at a restaurant or cook it up with one of my seafood-loving friends. But these days, friends and restaurant visits are scarce.
During lockdown, my cravings for seafood continued to intensify until they threatened to overtake me. So, I broke down and bought my own personal bag of shrimp. But I am not the kind of person who’s down for making two completely different dinners in one night. It was while contemplating whether I was willing to become that kind of person if only temporarily, that is dawned on me – bún, bún was the answer.
When stripped to it’s barest bones, bún dishes are typically comprised of rice vermicelli, some kind of grilled protein, and an assortment of fresh veggies and herbs served with a side of Nước mắm pha, a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce. Sometimes a spring roll is involved and I’ve seen it served with shrimp chips in some restaurants, although I have no idea how common that is in Vietnam. It could very easily be a flourish designed to please the uninformed North American.
Since bún can accommodate any variety of veggies or protein, it can be easily adapted to suit any diner’s wildest dreams. With bún, I can have my shrimp and eat with bae too. All I have to do is pour half of the lemongrass marinade over a portion of tofu or chicken for him and pour the other half over my shrimp. It’s the perfect dinnertime compromise – I don’t have to make anything extra and he doesn’t have to suffer my shrimp. Honestly, a parade of these Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli Bowls helped me maintain my sanity throughout the lockdown. And they will continue to do so until I can enjoy a platter of oysters with my girlfriends again.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli Bowls or bún tôm nướng. They’re easily adaptable, customizable, and deeply satisfying. Compromise has never tasted so good.
Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli Bowls
Nước mắm pha
- 1 carrot grated
- 2 limes juiced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 3 tbsp turbinado sugar
- 1 tbsp sambal oelek heaping
- 340g (12 oz) raw shrimp shell-on**
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, sliced thin
- 1 tbsp turbinado sugar
- 1 lime juiced
Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli Bowls
- 375g (13oz) dried rice vermicelli
- 1 batch Lemongrass Shrimp see above
- 1 cup mixed spring greens tightly packed
- 3 mini cucumbers cut into ribbons
- 3 small carrots cut into ribbons
- 1 avocado sliced
- 4 radishes sliced thin
- ½ cup dry roasted peanuts unsalted
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves tightly packed
- lime wedges for serving
For the Nước mắm pha
- Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Cover the sauce and chill until ready to use. It's best if you let the sauce sit for a minimum of 1 hour before serving to give the flavors a chance to meld.
For the Shrimp
- Peel the shrimp and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Transfer the shells to a freezer bag and place them in the freezer for future seafood stock.
- Smack the lemongrass with a kitchen mallet until pliable. Remove the tough outer leaves and finely chop the inner core. Add it to the bowl with the shrimp.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover and transfer the bowl to the fridge. Marinate for 1 hour.
- When you're ready to cook the shrimp, heat a cast iron griddle over high heat until smoking and cook the shrimp until pink and tender – this should only take a few minutes. If you don't have a cast iron griddle, bbq the shrimp over direct heat on a gas or charcoal grill. If neither is available to you, you can use a large skillet. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Bowls
- While you're heating the grill for the shrimp, place a kettle of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Place the vermicelli in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water.
- Divide the noodles across four bowls. Add the shrimp, greens, cucumber, carrots, avocado, radishes, peanuts, and mint to the bowls. Garnish each bowl with a lime wedge and serve with a side of the Nước mắm pha. Serve immediately.