Bun Bi Chay Recipe

Bun Bi Chay Recipe Recipe

Bun is a popular Vietnamese meal, which consists of rice vermicelli noodles, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, a protein element and dipping sauce. Bun bì chay is a vegetarian version that replicates shredded pork by using fried sliced jicama and fried tofu.

This is an ideal and very refreshing hot weather dish. The preparation is labor intensive, especially with chopping and frying, so I usually make a large quantity. It's delicious and keeps for a few days, so it's definitely worth the effort.


Yields: 10 servings

3 (12-ounce) packages firm tofu
1 large jicama
2 pounds taro root
6 Yukon Gold potatoes
3 white sweet potatoes
1¼ cups canola oil (or any neutral oil), as needed
1¼ cups jasmine rice or thinh (check tip section)
1 tablespoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
2 carrots, peeled and shredded into about 5"-long thick strips
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 yellow onions (see tips), sliced and fried
1 (2-ounce) package dried bean thread noodles
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1¼ tablespoons superfine sugar (or granulated sugar)
2 (16-ounce) packages rice vermicelli noodles, boiled and drained
1 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
¼ cup Vietnamese mint, chopped
¼ cup Vietnamese pickled spring onions (see tips), drained and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
4 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
¼ cup Thai basil, chopped
2 cups bean sprouts (optional)
½ cup roasted salted peanuts (optional), crushed


For the dry roasted rice powder: Dry roast the jasmine rice in a pan over the stove. Stir the rice using chopsticks until the grains turn a rich brown color (for about 5-7 minutes over high heat). Let cool. Grind the grains into a fine powder using a food processor or spice grinder. I use the VitaMix Dry Blade Container. The result should be a fine mill.

For the dried bean thread noodles: Place the whole package of dried bean thread noodles in a bowl. Don't forget to cut the little threads  and discard them! Soak the noodles in lukewarm water for 30 minutes (up to 1 hour, depending on the bean thread noodle brand), then drain. Chop into 1" threads. The texture should be soft but not soggy.

For the tofu: Drain any liquid from the tofu. Pat dry with a paper towel. Slice the tofu into ½"-thick pieces. In a large pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil; fry the tofu slices and transfer to a plate. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips.

For the jicama: Peel and slice horizontally into ½"-thick pieces.  In the same large pan, add about 1 tablespoon oil and fry the jicama slices until golden brown.  Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips. 

For the carrot: In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the shallot and cook until golden. Add the carrots and drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons water. Stir-fry until softened. Season with salt and pepper.

For the taro and potatoes: Peel and shred the taro using a mandoline. Place in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with ice water (it should barely cover the taro root). Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain all the liquid. Pat dry.

Repeat the same procedure with the sweet and regular potatoes.

In the same large pan, add about 2 more tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle about 4-5 tablespoons taro (working in several batches) evenly into the pan. Do not stir. Wait for at least 2 minutes until one side is nicely fried, crisp and golden. Flip the taro using chopsticks. Continue until all the taro is fried and repeat the same procedure with the potatoes. Add more oil if necessary.

When the taro and potatoes are nicely fried and golden, transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. As soon as all the oil is drained, transfer to a large bowl.

Making bì chay: In a large mixing bowl, combine the jicama, bean thread noodles and 2-3 tablespoons roasted rice powder. Toss until combined. Add the fried taro, potatoes, sweet potatoes and tofu. Season with mushroom powder. Sprinkle with sugar. Adjust seasoning with salt, chili powder and black pepper. Toss well, then sprinkle with more roasted rice powder. Add the carrots and fried onions. Mix well.

Assembly time: In an individual serving bowl, place a mixture of cucumber, pickled spring onions, bean sprouts (if used), lettuce, cilantro and basil. Cover with rice vermicelli noodles (called bún). Top with bì chay and Vietnamese mint. Drizzle with nước tương (vegetarian dipping sauce, recipe follows) and sprinkle some peanuts (if used) to garnish.

Bon appétit!


Dry roasted rice powder is called thinh in Vietnamese. If you want a finer mill for the roasted rice powder, you can use the Nutrimill brand mill if you have one. You can also buy ready-made thinh in Asian stores but I prefer grinding my own for a more fragrant, toasty scent. You can use it for (shredded meat with thinh) or grilled lemongrass beef with thinh and served with cơm tấm (jasmine broken rice). You can also toss the rice powder in salad; it absorbs the moisture and helps keep the salad dry.

Little reminder on how to fry onions: Peel and slice the onions.  In a large non-stick pan, heat ¼ cup oil.  Working in batches (for extra crispness), add the onions and fry until golden brown.  Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan.  As soon as all the oil is drained, transfer to a large bowl.  Add more oil between batches if necessary.

You can buy Vietnamese pickled spring onions, which are the white root from Asian spring onions. Just drain the brine and thinly slice them. They're sold in small cans. The Vietnamese name is củ kiệu. They're delicious as a snack.

I used frozen taro root. It's pre-peeled with a pale purple marbled flesh. It's a root vegetable that is as starchy as a potato and used very often in Asian cuisine.

You can find mushroom seasoning salt in most Asian specialty markets.

Jicama is a large, sweet, firm root vegetable that is used in vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine to imitate juicy pork fat and pork skin (when fried). It's crunchy like an apple and filling like a potato. You can find it (it's called củ sắn) in most supermarket produce sections.

Serve the chay with a soy sauce dipping sauce (nước tương): In a saucepan, combine ½ cup granulated sugar and ¾ cup coconut soda (or water).  Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.  Let the liquid cool to room temperature.  Add 6 tablespoons rice vinegar and 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice.  Add 2 cloves finely minced garlic and 1 finely chopped red Thai chili pepper (to taste).  Finish with ½ cup soy sauce.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on May 24, 2012.


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