Bun round rice noodles come in various sizes but banh hoi rice noodles come in only one size – very thin. In fact, these delicate Vietnamese noodles are thinner and finer than Italian angel hair pasta. Banh hoi are instantly recognizable as the tiny rice noodles are cooked and presented as rectangular-shaped mats that resemble a thick later of gauzy white cheesecloth. Banh hoi are difficult to prepare and mostly purchased and used as a fresh noodle. Thus, they are pricey compared to other Vietnamese noodles and typically a Vietnamese special-event food (such as weddings and annual death anniversary celebrations). Everyone always grins extra big smiles when banh hoi are served because you know that you’re in for a treat.
I like to describe banh hoi as fine rice noodles so as to distinguish them from the larger bun rice noodles. The photo above shows one piece of the noodle mats compared to the entire mound of them in the package.
How are these fine rice noodles eaten?
Banh hoi are not eaten alone, but rather served at room temperature alongside rich foods such as crisp Chinese roast pork, duck and grilled foods such as shrimp on sugarcane (chao tom) and meats such as lemongrass pork and beef. Right before serving, the noodles are always topped with rich scallion oil garnish, which adds richness and verdant color. At the table, guests encase the noodles and protein in lettuce with fresh herbs. A quick dunk in nuoc cham dipping sauce is the usual final touch before the bundle is eaten.
How are banh hoi rice noodles made?
The fine rice noodles are made of simple ingredients: rice, flour, and a little starch for resiliency. Banh hoi have a slight tang as producers add a bit of the older, fermented batter to the new batter. The noodle batter is thickish and traditionally steamed atop pieces of banana leaves. What we buy in the U.S. is made by machine and very uniform, but they are very tasty compared to ones in Vietnam.
Where and how to buy banh hoi rice noodles?
To be honest, banh hoi noodles are not easy to find outside of the Vietnamese community. Because they are best fresh, they do not travel well far from the place where they were manufactured.
In enclaves such as Little Saigon in Westminster, California, you’ll find the noodles at practically all the Vietnamese markets and barbecue shops (where you’d see roast pork, ducks, soy sauce chickens hanging behind glass). If a Vietnamese restaurant serves the noodles, ask where they get them. (Download a file to learn how to pronounce banh hoi.) In San Jose, California, I buy banh hoi from a noodle maker located on Tully near King (Dai Loi Lo Bun Banh Hoi Tuoi Food Togo (1592 Tully Rd #15, San Jose, CA 95122, 408-223-8255).
Vietnamese bun rice noodle makers usually also make banh hoi. Their shops are labeled “Lò Bún” -- see the name above for an example, which means a place where bun noodles are produced.
Regardless of your source, look for the fresh banh hoi noodles on Styrofoam trays, usually near the baguettes and other rice noodles. Press on the noodles and they should be soft if they are fresh.
How to cook banh hoi rice noodles:
They are precooked and do not require cooking. Very simple and convenient.
How to store and refresh banh hoi rice noodles:
Unfortunately, these noodles harden and stick together once refrigerated. To store, separate each rectangular piece of noodle and layer them between pieces of wax paper as shown below
Slide your stack of banh hoi rice noodles into a zip top bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return them to room temperature, then reheat them in the microwave oven. I usually reheat two layers at time atop a dinner plate, with the wax paper in between each layer. Flick some water atop each layer of noodle to give them some moisture. Also completely cover the plate with wax paper and tuck it under to mimic gentle steaming conditions. Run the microwave oven in short 20-30 second bursts, checking to between each to ensure softness. Once satisfied, let the noodles cool to room temperature and use them as if they were freshly purchased. Keep them covered with plastic wrap and at room temperature to prevent drying. Reheat as much noodles as you like up to 3 hours in advance of serving.
Banh hoi rice noodles serving tips:
Gently handle the noodles as you peel each piece apart. Then use scissors to individually cut them into smaller pieces. I aim for the size of a playing card. Then make overlapping layers on a platter with scallion oil garnish scattered atop each piece of banh hoi rice noodle. You may have to make multiple platters for 4 or more people. Bring them to the table and serve with your protein of choice, lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham dipping sauce. That’s the typical set up!
Make a light meal of Vietnamese banh hoi rice noodles with grilled beef (a recipe I contributed to the Rasa Malaysia site)
Tuck and wrap these goodies with banh hoi noodles:
- Grilled shrimp on sugarcane (chao tom)
- Beef in Wild Betel Leaf (Thit Bo Nuong La Lot)
- Korean-Vietnamese Grilled Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps
- Grilled lemongrass pork (thit heo nuong xa)
- Daikon and Carrot Pickle (do chua)
- Check the index of Vietnamese recipes for more ideas