Let’s Talk Food: Rice noodles

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Vietnamese rice vermicelli

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Thai rice sticks

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Rice vermicelli

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly the recipe calls for when they call for rice or glass noodles.

Rice noodles are made of rice and water and range in size from thin to thick. Most rice noodles cook incredibly quickly, and if you are lucky enough to get a hold of fresh ones they cook up in a minute or two.


Rice vermicelli are very thin and the ones asked for in many soup and spring roll recipes. They might go by the names of mi fen, bun, sen mae, mai fun or bee hoon. They are usually sold in dry, hard bunches bent in half. When cooked, they become soft, slippery and slightly chewy.

Kway teow are a thicker, wider and more robust version of rice vermicelli and will stand up to bold flavors. The width of the noodle is about the size of fettuccine or even wider. It could be called you tiao or sen yai. These noodles are slightly slippery and opaque, with a slight chewiness. Because of the wide surface area, it is good for absorbing flavors of the dish. Dishes with thick gravy work well with these noodles, and they also work well in soups.

Rice sticks are also called rice noodles, banh pho, pad thai or jantaboon. They become soft and slippery when cooked. The most famous dish that we make often is pad thai.

Chow fun noodles are flat, shiny and wide noodles with a soft, voluptuous chew. They are popular in Cantonese cooking. Other names for chow fun are shahe fen, ho fen, hor fun, mi xian, bee sua, sen lak, gullin mifen or mai sin. These noodles are best eaten soon after cooked.

Chee cheong fun are an extra-wide version of steamed chow fun noodles rolled up like a scroll. Silky smooth, soft and chewy, I used to love going to a shop in Chinatown to get this. The varieties that were available were plain, with bits of char siu, or green onions. Other names are chee cheong fen, steamed rice roll, pig intestine noodles or zhallang noodles. When I was in Thailand, I learned how these are made by mixing rice flour with water and steaming them over rice paper.

Silver needles are stubby, pointed worm-shaped noodles made with rice flour and tapioca starch. The tapioca starch makes the noodle have a slippery sheen on the surface and a firm chew. Other names are lao shu fen, pearl noodles or rat tails. These noodles are called for in stir fry and clay pot dishes, where you need a firm, hefty noodle.

Lai fun noodles are another noodle made of rice flour and tapioca starch. They are long, with tapering tails at the end where they were cut. The Cantonese word for these noodles is lai fun. The Vietnamese call them banh canh. The noodles are round and chubby, but thinner and longer, about 6-8 inches.

Ddeok are technically not noodles but Korean rice cakes made from glutinous rice flour that is steamed, pounded or bodied. Called Korean rice cakes, tteock, dduk, ddeong, thick or, if sweet, chapssai. These noodles are usually flat, circular chips and stubby cylinders. Korean rice cakes, or dok boki, call for these noodles

Rice paper is not a not a noodle but is made from rice flour dough, which is pressed between bamboo mats to flatten it. Look at rice paper and you can see the design of the bamboo. It also is called banh trang or spring roll wrappers or skins. Most recipe instructions call for the rice paper to be soaked in warm water to soften, but I learned from my Vietnamese friend that using a spray bottle to moisten both sides of the rice paper, then laying them on a cutting board until pliable works best, as you don’t have to touch the wet, delicate rice paper from the water to the cutting board.

We commonly make chicken long rice with long rice; however, these noodles are made with mung bean flour and not rice flour. Another name is cellophane noodles. These noodles will become clear, while rice noodles are white when cooked.

Another interesting tidbit, it is called long rice because the process to make these noodles is through a ricer, and has nothing to do with rice as an ingredient.

Ready to eat some rice noodles?

Vietnamese Pork with Vermicelli Noodles and Nuoc Cham


8 cloves of garlic, minced

5 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc nam)

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds pork shoulder (can substitute with boneless, skinless chicken thighs)

1 package rice vermicelli

1 head butter lettuce, torn into small pieces

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Olive oil

Sauce, or nuoc cham:

1/4 cup sugar

Juice of one lemon

1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc nam)

1/2 cup water

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 to 2 teaspoons chili paste

Place pork in the freezer until it firms slightly, 45-60 minutes. Remove the pork from the freezer, thinly slice and place in a large resealable bag. If you are using chicken instead, skip the freezing part, but butterfly the chicken for even thickness.

In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the marinade. Pour the marinade into the bag with the pork and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least one hour or up to 4 hours.

In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the sauce. Place in the refrigerator for one hour at least or up to 4 hours. (Chicken does not do well if marinated overnight. The pork can be marinated overnight.)

Right before grilling, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the vermicelli noodles and cook until tender, about 2-4 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, then set aside.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals with gray ash evenly over the charcoal grate. Grill the pork immediately over the hot fire until cooked through and charred well on both sides, about 5-10 minutes. Remove the pork to a plate.


To assemble, place noodles in a bowl or on a plate, then top with the grilled pork, lettuce and mint. Drizzle with the sauce and enjoy!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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