It seems that most people have their standby restaurants – those they turn to after a long day at work, to visit with friends, or when a craving hits. I have a couple that come to mind, many of them in my neighborhood or fairly nearby. However, one of my standby’s is worth the trek into the city, up the hill, and through the traffic on a busy weeknight. For at least the past year, Ba Bar, which serves up Vietnamese street food in Seattle, has been a central meeting point for dinner with a couple of dear friends from graduate school. Once a month, we pick an evening after work to meet for dinner and catch up on work, family, and life in general. While we venture out and try other restaurants from time to time, we always come back to Ba Bar.
There is one dish in particular that sold us on Ba Bar. While they are known for having high quality phở, drinks and macarons, it is the vermicelli bowls that bring us back time and time again. And for me, the grilled chicken vermicelli in particular. This bowl tastes like summer – it is full of crisp salad, cucumbers, cold rice noodles, grilled chicken, chopped peanuts, and a perfectly light fish sauce vinaigrette. I love this bowl and have a difficult time not finishing every last bite.
My husband and I recently spent 10 days in Europe. While traveling through Iceland, London and Copenhagen, I expected to eat a lot of fish, open-faced sandwiches (or Danish smørrebrød), Indian food, and other local delicacies. I didn’t anticipate finding Vietnamese food that rivaled Ba Bar (or some of the best taco’s I’ve ever had, but I’ll save that for another time). This restaurant, Nha Trang, was located right down the street from our Airbnb in Copenhagen in the hip and multicultural neighborhood of Nørrebro. We found this place at nearly nine at night, desperate for a quick meal after a long day of walking. The menu was extensive but I settled on my standby from the states, their version of the chicken vermicelli bowl. Once the food came out, I immediately started devouring the bowl. The chicken was grilled on skewers which were strewn out across the rice noodles. Small pieces of lettuce were poking out beneath. I poured over the fish sauce and scattered the small bowl of chopped peanuts. The chicken was unbelievable. In fact, so delicious that I dragged by husband back on our last evening in Copenhagen to have this bowl one last time.
Inspired by these meals, I was determined to find a recipe for a chicken vermicelli bowl to make at home. Luck would have it, the first recipe I clicked on was close to spot on. And fortunately this meal is somewhat on the healthy side because I have made it three times since we returned home two weeks ago. I hope you enjoy this wonderful bowl as much as my family and I have these past couple weeks.
Grilled Chicken Vermicelli Bowl
Modified from The New York Times
Serves 2 with leftovers
4 organic chicken thighs
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or smashed in a garlic press which I prefer)
2 shallots, finely chopped or grated on a microplane grater
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 package dry rice vermicelli (I used this brand from Whole Foods)
1 small head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 cucumbers, sliced into half moons
¼ C fresh mint, chopped
¼ C unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
FISH SAUCE VINAIGRETTE
½ C water
Juice of 1 lime
4 Tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, chopped or smashed in a garlic press
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Marinate the chicken breasts in the garlic, shallots, salt, pepper and the vegetable oil for 20 minutes.
Bring three quarts of water to a boil. Add the rice vermicelli and cook three to four minutes or until it is almost soft. Strain in a colander and set aside to cool.
Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette and mix together thoroughly. Set aside.Chop the lettuce, cucumbers, peanuts, and mint. In two wide-mouthed bowls, divide the lettuce and cucumbers. Top with the vermicelli.
Grill the chicken on high. Sear it at 450° for 2-3 minutes per side. Turn grill down to 300°-350° and cook until done. Cut into long bite-size pieces.
Arrange the chicken on top of the vermicelli. Pour three to four tablespoons of the vinaigrette on each salad. Sprinkle with fresh mint and peanuts and serve.
I encourage my guests to toss their bowls to mix the ingredients which allows the vinaigrette to evenly coat the ingredients and provide a more complex set of flavors with each bite. Enjoy this outside on the patio on a warm Spring evening like I did last night.