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gettin’ fresh

Recipe: vietnamese bun bo xao

Stormy weather. I love it! I like watching the clouds roil overhead as they blot out the sun. Usually, I’m on the lookout for lightning, because it’s one of those elusive, dangerous, exciting, and beautiful things – both to capture with my camera and to witness with my eyes. However, I’m never one to pass up a good show of mammatus clouds. They’re more common down on the Great Plains (Boulder/Denver and parts east) where atmospheric instability is pretty common in summer. Mammata are common up here in the mountains too, but they don’t get a chance to develop as much nor are they as long-lived as they are down on the flats. But we’ve been getting some stormy days and nice displays.

gone in seconds

dissipating mammata and a nice vertical draft over the continental divide

and right over my hizouse!!

Some of you might be aware that I’ve been doing a lot of sandwich research of late. A LOT of sandwich research. Last week I asked some gal pals if they wanted to grab non-sandwich fare for lunch… I had a hankering for Vietnamese food – particularly the rice noodle salad. And so we did and it was great, but… how hard can it be to make this at home? Not that hard at all, it turns out.

bun (bún): rice noodles

I did a little snooping about on the interwebs and found this lovely video (with Aussie accents – bonus!) on how to make Vietnamese bun bo xao (beef noodle stir-fry). When I went to Asian Seafood Market in Boulder, I asked Maria if the rice vermicelli package was the right one to make bun. She grimaced and said, “That too skinny!” and snatched the package from my hand, disappeared down the aisles, and returned with the right kind – a thicker rice noodle. “Use this for bun!” So don’t get the skinniest vermicelli, but rather the noodles that look about 1/16th of an inch in diameter (reference a ruler if you don’t know what I’m talking about because super skinny noodles will kinda suck).

While I was digging around among the bags of herbs in the back of the store, I happened upon what looked like Vietnamese mint. I didn’t know for sure though, because the video was the first I had ever heard of it. I brought it to Maria and asked if this was Vietnamese mint. She smiled and said yes, she likes to use it in salads and soups. She opened the bag and tore a leaf off for me to smell. “You put this with noodles!”

(left to right) basil, mint, vietnamese mint, thai basil

vietnamese mint up close

I know that Pacific Ocean Market (in Broomfield) and H Mart (in Aurora) carry fresh perilla – which is also called sesame leaves or shiso leaves – but I didn’t have the time to drive out that far. I asked Maria if she had shiso leaves. A sharp “no!” was the response. Then I asked if it was okay for me to substitute basil for shiso in the bun bo xao. She squinted her eyes at me and said yes, use basil – why would you use shiso? Great, I was all set.

sliced beef, bean sprouts, herbs, cucumbers, lemongrass, garlic, onion, rice noodles, fish sauce

minced lemongrass, sliced onion, minced garlic, sprouts, sliced cukes, beef (flank steak)

Marinate the beef with lemongrass, garlic, and some fish sauce. Do this first as it requires about 20 minutes, which is enough time for you to prep everything else.

add fish sauce

mix it together

While the beef is soaking up all that great flavor, roll several leaves of the mint, Vietnamese mint, and basil (or shiso if you’ve got it) together and slice them thin. Place some noodles in a bowl and top with bean sprouts and cucumber. You get to choose your quantities, but I like to go heavy on the vegetables. That’s how I roll. Sprinkle some shredded herbs over the bowl.

slice the herbs

get the noodle bowl ready

Now it’s time to fire up the burner as hot as you can get it. I wish there was a “sun” setting on my dial, because I’d use that for my stir-fries. As it is, my stir-fries are substandard because I can’t get them hot enough. I finally broke down and bought a proper wok a few months ago, but haven’t had a moment to season it (and it takes me a few dates to get comfortable with new kitchen equipment). In the meantime, I used my All-Clad stainless steel. The sauté goes quickly: oil, lemongrass and onions, then beef, then finish with a dash of fish sauce. Done!

sauté the onions and lemongrass in some oil

stir in the beef

As soon as the beef is done, remove it from the heat and start divvying it up among the bowls. I wound up using half as much beef as the recipe calls for, but it still distributed generously among four bowls. It’s not supposed to be a heaping meat bowl anyway. The meat is just a small component of a very fresh and colorful noodle salad. You will want to have chopped peanuts, nuoc cham, Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon radish, and fried shallots on hand. I include recipes for the nuoc cham and pickled vegetables below, but I noticed you can also purchase them at some Asian grocery stores in addition to the fried shallots.

add more herbs

top with pickles and nuoc cham

a spoonful of chopped peanuts

The second time we had bun bo xao, I threw in julienned jicama and shredded romaine lettuce. Fantastic. This rice noodle salad is full of crunchy textures and fresh herbs and vegetables. I think Southeast Asian cuisines are the pinnacle of flavor country, not to mention the extensive use of fresh ingredients. This is a wholly satisfying meal that is also perfectly cool and refreshing for those hot days that make you wilt at the thought of cooking. You know of what I speak…

colorful, fresh, fragrant

Vietnamese Bun Bo Xao (Noodle Salad Beef Stir-Fry)
[print recipe]
from SBS Food

1 stem lemongrass (the tender white part), minced
1 lb. steak (I used flank steak), sliced thin against the grain and at an angle
2 tsp crushed fresh garlic
2 tbsps + 1 tsp fish sauce
1 lb. vermicelli noodles, cooked*
2 cups bean sprouts
1 large English cucumber (or 3 Persian cucumbers), halved and sliced
10 perilla leaves (also known as shiso leaves or sesame leaves – can be found in some Asian markets)
10 fresh basil leaves if you can’t find perilla/shiso leaves
10 mint leaves
10 Vietnamese mint leaves (see photo above in the post)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, sliced

* Follow the instructions on the rice noodle package. If there aren’t any, place the noodles in a large pot of boiling water and let boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pot for 3 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water.

extra goodies
Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrots
chopped peanuts
fried shallots (can be found in Asian markets)
nuoc cham
jicama, julienned (optional – but it’s good!)
romaine lettuce, shredded (optional – adds crunch)

vietnamese pickled daikon and carrots
1 lb. carrots, peeled and julienned
1 lb. daikon radish, peeled and julienned
2 tsps salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 cup water

Sprinkle salt over the carrots and daikon and toss to coat. Let sit for a few minutes. Rinse with water and drain. Place carrots, daikon, sugar, rice wine vinegar, and water together in a bowl or a vessel with a tight-sealing lid. I like to place it in a screwtop tupperware and shake the hell out of it (to dissolve the sugar). Let sit for an hour before serving. Can refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

nuoc cham
2 limes, juice of
2 tbsps brown sugar
4 tbsps fish sauce (I like Three Crabs brand)
4 cloves garlic, minced
chile-garlic paste to taste (or finely sliced hot chiles)
1/2 cup water

Whisk together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Make the bun bo xao: Mix 2 teaspoons of the lemongrass (reserve the rest for later) with the beef, the garlic, and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. Set it aside and let it marinade for 20 minutes. Gather your serving bowls and place a large handful of rice noodles in each bowl. Sprinkle a handful of bean sprouts and some cucumber slices over the noodles. Roll the herbs together (easiest if you use the largest leaves to wrap around the smaller leaves) and chiffonade (slice thin). Sprinkle some over each bowl. Set aside. Heat a wok or frying pan on your highest heat setting. Add the vegetable oil, the rest of the lemongrass and the sliced onion. Stir the contents around the pan and toss the beef in. Let it char if possible. Add the remaining teaspoon of fish sauce and give everything in the pan a good stir. Place a scoop of the beef on each noodle salad. Dress with more herbs, Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon, chopped peanuts, fried shallots, and nuoc cham (to taste). Optional: Add julienned jicama and shredded romaine lettuce. Serves 4-6.

25 nibbles at “gettin’ fresh”

  1. Kat says:


  2. Betty says:

    Hi Jen — A longtime reader of your lovely blog, but first time commentator. This dish brings back great memories of college, when my friend Cindy and I would take a break from studying to hit up a hole-in-the-place Vietnamese restaurant (somewhere in downtown Charlottesville, I could never remember the name), get two orders to go, wash it down with some Smoothie King (couldn’t find any place that serves good avocado boba slushies, that would be the optimal pairing) , and trek back to the library.

    My question is, which cut of meat would I substitute for if I wanted to use pork instead of beef? Also, have you tried adding sliced jalapeño to it?


  3. Betty says:

    oops, hole-in-the-wall (*typo)

    I always wanted to point out that I love how you intersperse scientific tidbits throughout your cooking. As a female physicist (a field that is direly in need of more), you were always a source of inspiration for me during college. (I studied chemical engineering, but am now figuring my life out for grad school, hopefully med school. NOT engineering.) So, thanks. :)

    //ends gushy groupie rave

  4. Kristin says:

    This is what my son & I always get at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, except we get pork. Love, love, love it! I’m glad to have the tips to make well at home!

  5. Margie says:

    I’m going to have to Google the nouc cham ingredient, even though it’s optional, I’ll bet it’s a thing I want to try.

    Those clouds are lovely, Jenzie. I LOVE cloud formations, and your catch are especially beautiful.

  6. Susanne says:


    must. have. this.

  7. Ashley says:

    This looks DELICIOUS! Vietnamese is one of my favorite cuisines. I am going to have to try this soon! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Ali says:

    Absolutely my favourite thing to order when we get Vietnamese! I usually opt for the fried tofu option but I would eat this version (or pork or chicken or just veggie) any day. Thanks for pushing me to make it at home.

  9. Jen L | Tartine and Apron Strings says:

    Oh, thank you, thank you for posting this! I love Vietnamese food and am thinking of making it at home but needed authentic recipes…

    Wait, did you say that was your house? NICE!! It’s beautiful! Love the towering cathedral windows!!!!!!!! LOVE!!!!!

  10. Shut Up & Cook says:

    As always….LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your posts, recipes, and pix.

    I’m attending BlogHer Food Conference this year in Seattle…any chance you’ll be here?!?

  11. Nicola Stratford says:

    The SBS Food Safari series is one of the best cooking shows I’ve ever seen – each half hour show looks at a new country’s cuisine. The presenter is lovely, and she goes to really expert adherents of a national food style. Then, on the website, you can get the recipes. I can thoroughly recommend it: You can buy the DVDs from the SBS online shop at

    SBS, by the way, is our version Down Under of ‘culturally diverse’ television – other languages news, films and so on.

  12. Nan says:

    We are Vietnamese food junkies around here — hooked by a restaurant in our area that has since closed. So, whenever we travel, we look high and low to satisfy our craving. From Vegas, to LA, Philly to Boston, we search for Vietnamese fare. At last, there’s a great little restaurant a few miles away that opened a year ago. Heaven! Bun is a personal fave, as is Pho — the more traditional the better.

    I’ve been making Bun at home, every summer. I can’t imagine a more flavorful or crispy fresh salad – perfect for a summer dinner. I’m making this tonight! Thanks Jen!

  13. Kel says:

    Yum! I cannot wait to see your moon pictures from this weekend!

  14. Jill says:

    We are in Salida right now, and one of our favorite lunch spots is Little Cambodia, on F Street. We ate there yesterday, so how timely your post is for me!! It’s the friendliest, littlest “hot spot” in town. Maybe 12 seats, and they just added a small patio table outside. Tom always gets a large Bun, and sometimes I get Pho, but yesterday they had a special on chicken lettuce wraps. YUM YUM!
    As always….love all the photos! hugs, jill

  15. Dana says:

    This type of bowl, with tofu instead of the beef, is one of my very favorite things to eat in the world. I love pho too but sometimes I want more “stuff” and less broth. I don’t think I’ve ever made it at home – need to remedy that. I also think I need to just have some of those carrots and daikon in my fridge at all times. I use them on veg bahn mi!

  16. Valerie says:

    This looks so delicious! I haven’t had this dish in forever, definitely bookmarking your recipe!

  17. jenyu says:

    Kat – ha! :)

    Betty – I imagine you could use pork shoulder or pork loin with good results! In fact, I typically prefer pork, but I had beef on hand and it’s easy to work with :) I didn’t add jalapeños to it, but you totally could. It’s often done, but we have someone in the house who is sensitive to spicy things. Thanks!! xo

    Kristin – I love being able to make it myself now :)

    Margie – I list the recipe for nuoc cham up there too.

    Susanne – :)

    Ashley – you’re welcome!

    Ali – yay!

    Jen L – thanks!!

    Shut Up & Cook – I won’t be attending BHF this year. I’m kinda done with the food blogging conferences unless they plan to offer something that I actually care about. Have fun though!

    Nicola – it’s a really nice series from what I’ve seen.

    Nan – sounds great!

    Kel – luckily I was able to get some. It’s never a guarantee (the weather was quite iffy)

    Jill – Oh, thanks for that! We never know WHAT is in Salida when we drive through. I’ll have to check it out, thanks :)

    Dana – yes, those pickled carrots and daikon are really quick to whip up and I like having them in my fridge too!

    Valerie – thank you.

  18. Chris says:

    Vietnamese mint is also known as laksa leaves. They grow like a weed! When u buy your next pkg of the herb, pick a few stems that are mature-looking and snip off the bottom to get rid of the dried up bit. Soak in a glass of water by the window and it will grow roots. Stick them in the ground and watch them flourish.

  19. jenyu says:

    Chris – thank you for that!! :)

  20. Hangeroo says:

    Hi! Did you forget to add water to the nuoc cham recipe? Typically there is water added to dilute the fish sauce and help dissolve the sugar. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  21. jenyu says:

    Hangeroo – wow, I’ve never added water to nuoc cham! Maybe I use less?? Or maybe I just love really salty/sour? :) I’ll have to look into that. Thanks :)

  22. babyseahorse says:

    I love your blog, your recipes and pics are great I can’t wait to try this one! Thanks!

  23. Vietnamese Bun Bo Xao Beef Noodle Salad byuserealbutte | Mummies Yummies by chrys the soup lady says:

    […] via Jane on […]

  24. Mumsyums says:


  25. Ninjen says:

    This recipe was AMAZING!!! I love Vietnamese food and have been wanting to make it at home. I like that you gave options….I followed all except the items I could not find. This will definitely be a regular recipe in my house! Yum!

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