Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce – Recipe

Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce

Bun (pronounced, roughly, boon), when well made, is just about one of the greatest foods ever invented. Super-thin Vietnamese rice noodles are topped with a variety of cooked and fresh ingredients, lots of herbs, and a sweet and savory sauce to make a light, healthy and superbly delicious meal-in-a-bowl. Salad and entree in one package.

I'll drop everything and run to the nearest Vietnamese restaurant whenever I need a bun fix. A vegetarian version with tofu instead of meat is always available for the asking, even if it isn't on the menu. The only problem is the sauce (nuoc cham), which contains fish sauce. Sometimes the kitchen will make a vegetarian version of that as well, but if not you'll have to make do with whatever condiments are on the table.

BunMiseBetter yet, you can make a terrific bun at home. You have the luxury of gathering great fresh ingredients which may well be better than you find at the corner joint, and you can make a sauce that is vegetarian by design, with big bright flavors. The version I'm offering you today uses grapefruit. The segments go in the bowl, and the juice is used for the sauce. (If you've never cut citrus into supremes – segments without any pith – Ming Tsai has a good video to show you how.)

The key to bun is all in the mise en place. You have quite a few ingredients that need preparation. Nothing complicated, it just takes a little bit of time to get them all together, and you want to be organized for final assembly.

My choices for ingredients and sauce can just be a starting point; you can add or subtract anything you like; as long as it fits within the Vietnamese flavor profiles it will still be a great dish. Other things I love to include: Thai basil, lemongrass (sauteed with the tofu), roasted peanuts, papaya.

Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Serves 4

  • 8 oz. Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 cup shallot rings, sliced about 1/8" thick
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into approximately 2" x 2" x 1/3" squares
  • 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 2-3 grapefruits
  • juice of 2 limes (reserve zest from one)
  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar (palm sugar if you have it)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • salt
  • 1 cup julienned carrot (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 1 cup julienned daikon radish (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 small hot chile peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 3 green onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 ripe mango, diced
  • 1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
  1. Heat a pot of water to boiling, remove from the heat, add the rice noodles and let sit for ten minutes. Check the texture – they should be tender but definitely not mushy. Drain and reserve.
  2. Cut the grapefruit into supremes, working over a bowl to catch the juice. Strain off the juice, squeeze all of the leftover pieces of the grapefruit in with it, and add the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of sugar, ginger, soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of salt. We'd like to have at least 1.5 cups of an intensely citrus-ginger flavored sauce that is distinctly sweet and just slightly syrupy. Taste and adjust seasonings, remembering that it will need to be strongly flavored to play off of all the other ingredients. Depending on how many you needed to make the sauce, you might have more supremes than you want to serve: cooks treat.
  3. Fry the shallot rings in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until dark brown. Remove to paper towels and season with salt. As they cool, they will become crispy.
  4. Add the remaining oil and fry the tofu, working in batches as needed to get the squares brown on both sides. Drizzle with the sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) and continue frying for another 30 seconds so it can caramelize.
  5. Combine the carrot, daikon, rice wine vinegar and sesame seeds and set aside to pickle a bit.
  6. To assemble, divide the lettuce among 4 large bowls. Top each with a big handful of the rice noodles. Then top with an attractive arrangement of the remaining ingredients: tofu, grapefruit supremes, mango carrot/daikon salad, chile pepper, cucumber and finally the shallot rings, green onion, and cilantro and lime zest. You can either pour on the sauce yourself or divide into individual bowls for your guests to add as they see fit. Offer Sriracha-type hot sauce on the side.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, October 19th, 2009 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

24 Responses to “Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) with Ginger-Grapefruit Sauce – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    October 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    I absolutely love this recipe. I have it stored for grapefruit season.

  2. Reply
    October 19, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Nice! I have a bun habit, too. In fact, I go to the same place so often that the proprietor finally sat down to inform me that I was using the “wrong” table condiment. Apparently the Sriacha paste (in the bottle with the rooster on it) is not vinegary enough. He directed me to the Sambal Olek-like chili vinegar stuff in the little jar on the table. Sho-enough, it made the bun so much better. Thanks for the recipe, I’ll have to try this on Mr. Tofu when a craving hits!

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 19, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    @ivy That's awesome that you got a lecture on proper condiment use!

  4. Reply
    October 20, 2009 at 5:04 am #

    YUM! this looks outstanding!

  5. Reply
    October 20, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    This looks delicious. I hadn’t thought of grapefruit as a substitute for nuoc mam before.

  6. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 20, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    @fearless – I came up with this idea because at our favorite bun place, they don't offer a vegetarian sauce, but we always order this mango salad, and use the leftover dressing from that on our bun instead. I find the slightly sweet, fruity flavor works well – it doesn't taste at all the same as nuoc mam of course, but to me it tastes really good.

  7. Reply
    October 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm #

    Michael, that is heaven in a bowl for me. I’m not a huge grapefruit fan so I would probably skip that, but everything else is amazing. Why have I never made this at home?

  8. Reply
    November 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    eating it right now and i have only 3 words for you– 1) DE-2) LI-3) CIOUS!!! thank you!!! 🙂

  9. Reply
    November 2, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    wonderfully colorful

  10. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 2, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    @nicole Right on! Thanks for the live report 🙂

  11. Reply
    November 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    OMG So good! Not exactly what I was craving on a November night in Seattle, but I had some grapefruit lying around so I thought I’d try it. Ummm YUM!
    Its a good counterbalance to the starchy goodness we will be enjoying later in the week.
    Thanks Michael!

  12. Reply
    April 2, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Great colors. It looks appetizing. 🙂

  13. Reply
    April 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    First a question: where to use the lime zest – it is missing from the assembly?

    This was absolutely delicious. We were amazed at how good it is – and healthy. WOW!

    Do you have a wine recommendation? Maybe Riesling or Vouvray?

    I am really looking forward to making this again.
    Thank you.

  14. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    April 21, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    @Giacomo – Thanks for the correction, I've added the lime zest to the garnish. I'm delighted you liked it and thanks for letting me know! I'm not wine knowledgeable enough to offer a pairing, but I would think something with citrus notes would be good. Or beer.

  15. Reply
    April 21, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    I served an excellent Foxen Chardonnay and it was a poor match. After having the dish, seems like any good Riesling (Kabinett or Spatlese) would work very well or a good Vouvray.

  16. Reply
    February 21, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Totally awesome. I like that ginger-grapfruit , going to try it and the pickles too, Love daikon.

  17. Reply
    Lynn Ellen
    March 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Made this last night and it was loved by all!

    • Reply
      March 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Oh good, glad you liked it! It is a good one to have in your arsenal because you can easily vary the toppings and sauce to suit your mood and the contents of the vegetable bin 🙂

  18. Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Made this last night for a group of friends who are not vegetarians (or Asian, since we mostly think tofu-phobia is kind of weird) who are deeply suspicious of tofu and they LOVED it! I opted to put all the ingredients out so people could assemble their own, and danged if they didn’t keep asking for more tofu. 🙂

    • Reply
      July 18, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      That’s awesome! I do the “buffet style” sometimes, especially when I serve it to kids so they can pick just the stuff they like.

      • Reply
        July 18, 2012 at 11:08 am #

        The self-assembly style worked really well for us last night because, for some reason, my jalapenos were fiery-hot, so only my chili-head friend could handle them. The rest of us took some at first, but then passed ours to her….

  19. Reply
    September 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    This looks delicious. I’m thinking of making it and serving it with the lettuce leafs whole, so we can wrap the other ingredients into them. I guess I would have to cut some of the ingredients a bit smaller than shown here, but I dearly love lettuce wraps, so really want to try. I love all of the ingredients, as do my family, so…wish me luck.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      Yes, for sure you can wrap all that goodness in lettuce, and then use the sauce for dipping. Should be delish!

  20. Reply
    November 19, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Love the spicy, salty, sour, sweet!!

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