A healthy and delicious Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl, full of fresh and bold flavours. The chicken is marinated in a classic Vietnamese marinade and served grilled over a bed of vermicelli noodles, salad, fresh herbs and a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham).
Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram will know that I shop at the farmers’ market in Zurich quite regularly – three times a week, in fact. We are very lucky to have the beautiful farmers’ market near our home every Tuesday and Friday, as well as a much smaller one down the street every Thursday.
Where possible, I try to avoid shopping at the supermarket by doing a bulk shopping order online about once a month for pantry items and toiletries. This then allows me to buy most of our fresh produce at the farmers’ market during the week; the main advantage is that I can take the children with me where they can freely and happily roam about on their bikes or scooters. Plus, I get easily bored at the playground and I like to think that the farmers’ market is a nice compromise for the children and I – they get to play outside while I can do some grocery shopping, as well as meet friends for coffee and cake 🙂
The other advantage is that I can buy fruits and vegetables which are not only in season, but also in small quantities, something which is not always possible when shopping at the supermarket. For example, I can buy a handful of green beans from the farmer, whereas the supermarkets only sells them in 500g (1 pound) bags. This is pretty important to me in helping me to keep food waste to a minimum, plus our fridge (like most common Swiss fridges) is pretty tiny when compared to those in, say, the US and Australia.
In the past week, rhubarb has featured quite regularly for dessert (like this Rhubarb, Strawberry & Raspberry Crumble). And for all of the moaning in the past few years about my son’s picky eating, we have recently entered a new (and much more pleasant) phase where, at 4 years old, he is now eating EVERYTHING. He can’t get enough of raw radishes with butter, carrots (which he likes to peel by himself), capsicums (peppers), as well as every fruit you put under his nose. Of course, our son’s recent foray into the world of good eating has been off-set by our daughter’s sudden dislike of food in general, but I guess you can’t have it all!
Speaking of picky eaters, I wonder if it is genetic because I know that I probably caused my own mother much grief in this department. One dish which she frequently made at home was Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl. I should stress the word “frequently” because, as a child, the only thing you could count on me eating was noodles. If you put a bowl of chicken noodle soup or stir-fried noodles in front of me, I was a happy camper. You would not have had much luck with anything involving rice.
So it is a bit comical that we now eat rice nearly every second day, and mostly because the children absolutely love it. Some nights, my daughter will have 3 helpings of just plain steamed rice and refuse to eat anything else!
What is a Vietnamese Noodle Bowl?
If you visit any Vietnamese restaurant, the menu will probably display a long list of noodle bowls or noodle salads which start with “Bun“, which means “noodles” in Vietnamese. Examples include:
- Bun Cha – Vietnamese pork meatballs served with a noodle salad (see my recipe here).
- Bun Cha Gio – crispy spring rolls (called egg rolls in the US) served with a noodle salad.
- Bun Thit Nuong – grilled marinated meat served with a noodle salad. You can usually choose from chicken, pork or beef.
- Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong – crispy spring rolls AND grilled marinated meat, served with a noodle salad.
- Bun Chay – “chay” in Vietnamese refers to a vegetarian dish and often means there is tofu.
- Bun Dac Biet – “dac biet” in Vietnamese means “special” or “the works”, and what this includes can vary from restaurant to restaurant. It can sometimes include all of the above!
My favourite happens to be Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong – I find it hard to resist eating spring rolls (egg rolls) at any opportunity!
How to Make a Vietnamese Noodle Bowl
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl is a classic dish in any Vietnamese home or restaurant. I love this dish with chicken, but it can also often served with beef; simply use rump steak or a similar good-quality cut (I like entrecôte) in place of the chicken in the recipe below.
For a vegetarian version, it is delicious served with grilled marinated tofu which you should slice thickly before adding to the noodle bowl.
The salad component is also, of course, changeable depending on what you like and what is available near you. Vietnamese salads are typically big on fresh flavours and textures, so you will often find a good number of herbs, including coriander (cilantro), mint, perilla and sometimes even Thai basil.
Shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, and bean sprouts provide a crunchy contrast to the soft noodles, and you often even find restaurants garnishing this dish with crushed roasted peanuts.
What is essential to this dish is the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (nuoc cham) which is used here to dress and season the noodles. Most Vietnamese families will have a large bottle of this sauce in the fridge for use in a wide range of dishes, with the added bonus of keeping well for several weeks. My son loves it so much that he practically drinks it!
Something I love about this dish is that you can easily double or triple the recipe if you are entertaining.
The chicken can (and should) be marinated the night before, the dipping sauce can be made well in advance, and the noodles and salad can be prepped at the last minute so they remain as fresh as possible.
For many years, I used to slice the chicken into strips before marinating, but I now find it easier to just marinate and cook the chicken breasts whole, and to slice them thickly before serving. The meat remains more juicy and succulent this way, plus it is easier to cook.
And I use chicken breasts in this recipe because, oddly enough, boneless chicken thighs are not sold in Switzerland.
How to Serve Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
This is one of those dishes which should be assembled at the last minute. I usually serve Vietnamese Noodle Bowls as follows:
- The salad and herbs should be washed and spun dry, and placed in a colander or large salad bowl.
- I cook the vermicelli noodles ahead of time (about 1 hour) so that it has had time to dry before eating. It will start to stick after some time, but you can separate them again with some tongs or chopsticks. Avoid placing the noodles in the fridge as this will harden the noodles.
- The chicken should be grilled at the last minute so that it can be served hot. I like to slice and serve the chicken on a large wooden board, but you can also serve the chicken on a large platter.
- I place a big bowl of the Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham) on the table with a small ladle so that people can help themselves when pouring some sauce over their noodles.
- I also place small bowls for the Vietnamese dipping sauce as some people (including myself) like to the chicken into the sauce for extra flavour.
- I also serve finely chopped chillies or some Pickled Chillies for those who want their food spicy. This can be added directly to the noodles and/or the dipping sauce.
- To assemble, place some salad leaves on the bottom of the plate, top with a handful of noodles, add some meatballs, garnish with herbs, and drizzle over some Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham). Use your chopsticks to bring everything together.
I often make a few changes to make this dish so that it is child-friendly. Unless the children are old enough to have the dexterity to twirl the noodles onto their forks (mine still like to decorate the floor with the sticky noodles), steamed rice goes equally well with this marinated chicken, and the salad can be served Western-style in a large bowl with the dipping sauce used as a salad dressing.
With the weather starting to warm up where we are, I foresee many summer evenings with the barbecue fired up, and this Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl will definitely be on the menu more than once!
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl
A healthy and delicious Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl, full of fresh and bold flavours.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 30 mins
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: Serves 4
For the lemongrass chicken
- 4 small chicken breast fillets, or 2 large chicken breast fillets sliced in half to produce 4 thin fillets
- 2-3 lemongrass stalks, white parts only finely sliced
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 red chillies
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
For the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 4-6 tablespoons water
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
For the lemongrass chicken
- Place the chicken into a large zip-lock freezer bag.
- Place all of the ingredients for the marinade into a food processor and whizz until everything is finely chopped and blended.
- Pour the marinade into the freezer bag and make sure all of the chicken is well-coated in the marinade.
- Leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking so it can come to room temperature.
- Heat a large cast-iron grill pan, non-stick pan, or even a barbecue, to medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in batches until they are golden and caramelised on the outside.
- Remove the chicken to a board, and use a sharp knife to cut into thick slices.
To make the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- Place the sugar into a medium-sized bowl and dissolve it in the lemon juice.
- Add the fish sauce and water, and stir.
- Add the garlic and chillies, and leave the dipping sauce to settle for about 5-10 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning. You might need to add more lemon juice or sugar, depending on how big or small your lemon is.
- Place some salad leaves at the bottom of a large bowl (such as a large soup bowl or pasta bowl).
- Top with a good handful of vermicelli noodles.
- Add the cucumbers and carrots (or other vegetables of your choice), as well as the herbs.
- Place the sliced chicken on top, and dress with a good 1-2 tablespoons of the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce before serving.
When I am cooking for children, I omit the chillies from the marinade and the dipping sauce. You can serve chopped chillies, or even Pickled Chillies, on the side for those who like their food spicy. However, lately, I have started to add a bit of spice to the childrens’ food so that they can slowly get used to the taste. For the marinade above, I sometimes add half or 1 small Thai red chilli, and my children have not yet made any complaints …
Make sure the noodles you are using are vermicelli rice noodles (which are white) and NOT bean thread noodles (which are clear). Vermicelli rice noodles come in various thickness (like spaghetti), and I like to use medium thick noodles for this dish.
Once you have mixed the chicken with the marinade in the freezer bag, you can freeze the chicken to use at a later time. Simply defrost the chicken in the fridge overnight. For this reason, it’s worth doubling the recipe and freezing one batch for future use.
- Serving Size: 4
- Calories: 581
- Sugar: 15g
- Sodium: 1896.8mg
- Fat: 19g
- Carbohydrates: 80.3g
- Fiber: 3.3g
- Protein: 23g
- Cholesterol: 51.7mg