This is based on a Saigon street dish called banh tam bi, a fabulous mix of thick, chewy rice and tapioca noodles, crunchy vegetables and peanuts, aromatic fresh herbs and fine shreds of pork and/or pork skin. The whole thing is served drenched in slightly sweet nuoc cham and warmed, thick coconut milk and it is beyond delicious. Here’s a vegetarian approximation that’s easy-peasy; there’s actually no cooking, as such.
- 1 kg fresh tapioca noodles (see Note)
- 350 g jicama (yam bean, about 1 small), peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
- 2 Lebanese cucumbers, cut into thin matchsticks
- 12 fried tofu puffs, sliced thinly
- 2 green onions, trimmed and sliced
- 1 butter lettuce, coarse leaves discarded, leaves torn
- 200 g (1 ⅓ cups) drained Vietnamese pickled vegetables
- 100 g (⅔ cup) roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- large handful each coriander, thai basil and torn perilla leaves
- 400 ml thick coconut milk, heated (see Note)
Vietnamese pickled vegetables (makes about 1.25 litres/5 cups)
- 75 g (⅓ cup) caster sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp salt
- 750 g (3 cups) hot water
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) rice wine vinegar
- 300 g carrot, cut into matchsticks
- 300 g daikon, cut into matchsticks
- 60 ml (¼ cup) fish sauce
- 125 ml (½ cup) boiling water
- 60 ml (¼ cup) rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium red chilli, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp lime juice
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To make the pickled vegetables, combine the sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add hot water then stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the vinegar and the vegetables then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cool. Transfer to sterilised jars or a clean plastic container then cover tightly and refrigerate for 3 days before using.
To make the nuoc cham, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix well.
Place the noodles in a large bowl. Pour over enough boiling water to cover generously then stand for 6-7 minutes or until softened, separating the noodles carefully with chopsticks. Drain well then combine in a large bowl with all the remaining ingredients except the coconut milk. Toss gently to combine well then divide among bowls.
Serve immediately with remaining nuoc cham and hot coconut milk passed separately to pour over, to taste.
• Called banh canh in Vietnamese, these thick and chewy noodles are made from a mixture of tapioca and rice flours. Find them fresh, in the refrigerated section of a good general Asian (or specialist Vietnamese), food store. You don’t need to cook them- they simply need reviving with a good soak in plenty of boiling water.
• Use a good quality UHT (ultra-high temperature) coconut milk here; Kara brand is a reliable choice.
• You can use purchased pickled veg if you like (look for them at Vietnamese foods stores) but they're so simple to make. You just need to whip them up a few days in advance and note the recipe here makes more than you will need but they keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Tiffany Page.