A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law took me to a Vietnamese restaurant she once frequented with her late father. The eatery is in an unassuming building in an average-looking shopping plaza, its interior likewise typical of many family-owned-and-run establishments. And like so many of those small businesses with a local following, this place had one of its own, guided by an impressively vast menu tucked within the restaurant's humble walls. It even included a small section devoted to vegetarian fare, from which I selected Bún Chay, a delightful and filling mound of vegetables, noodles, and tofu. I enjoyed this bowl-bound creation so much that I took note to attempt to recreate it in my own kitchen later.
A recent hankering for rice noodles prompted me to revisit the noodle salad, with a few liberties taken to streamline the already simple process even more. Rather than shredding lettuce and assorted veggies to line the bowl, I chopped a few leaves of Napa cabbage and topped it with store-bought broccoli slaw (a blend of toothpick-sized pieces of broccoli and carrots). Boiled and drained bihon (rice vermicelli) sat upon the bed of veggies, with lightly pan-fried tofu nestled atop that. Torn cilantro and mint added the necessary herbal component, with crispy fried onions and crushed, roasted peanuts finishing off the toppings for the Bún Chay. I made the sauce from this recipe to dress the salad, using vegan "fish" sauce in place of shoyu for a bit more of an authentic flavor. A heavy squeeze of sriracha kicked up the spice. Delicious. It was a balancing act trying to mix everything in that small bowl, but devouring it all was quite easy.