Although vermicelli may not have the most appetizing name (it translates, rather unfortunately, to “little worms”), the extra-thin noodles are quick-cooking and good with countless flavors, as proven by the fact that they’re used all around the world in meals from breakfast to dessert.
There are two main types of vermicelli: Italian (just plain “vermicelli”) and Asian (aka “rice vermicelli”). But there are some other specific ways to separate these strands too.
The Italian noodles are made, as you might expect, from durum wheat flour, and can be used like any other pasta, especially spaghetti, spaghettini, or angel hair; the only thing separating one from another is the degree of thinness. (Pro tip: this kind of vermicelli is also what shows up along with rice in that famous boxed “San Francisco Treat”—so you can easily make your own homemade Rice-A-Roni to cut down on the sodium and switch up the flavorings.)
Asian vermicelli noodles are not called that in their native countries—in fact, they have a plethora of names depending on cuisine and origin—but they picked up the moniker in English-speaking regions due to their similar shape to Italian vermicelli: long and thin. They’re made from rice flour, which explains why you may also find them labeled as rice noodles (and rice sticks are the same thing ingredient- and taste-wise, but wider and flatter in shape). You’ll find thicker rice vermicelli too, in dishes like pho and bun bo hue, for instance.
Cellophane Noodles and Glass Noodles
To further confuse things, there are cellophane and glass noodles too, which are considered a type of Asian vermicelli, but are made from mung bean starch (or sweet potato starch) and cook up clear instead of white. If you can only find cellophane or glass noodles, they can be used interchangeably with rice vermicelli, though their texture is a little softer and more gelatinous. Cellophane noodles are also a good option if you’re gluten-free, since they are too!
Can You Use Different Types of Vermicelli Interchangeably?
In a pinch, if all you can find is a box of Italian vermicelli, you can use it anywhere you would rice vermicelli, fideos, or falooda sev. You’ll definitely get a slightly different flavor and texture, but since most of these dishes are highly seasoned and saucy anyway, it won’t matter quite so much. Just pay attention to your package instructions since wheat vermicelli will need to cook longer than rice and cellophane noodles, which will turn to mush after much more than a few minutes in the pot!
(And while you may have heard tell of chocolate vermicelli, that’s not some fancy dessert pasta—just fancy chocolate sprinkles.)
Basically, vermicelli by (almost) any other name will taste as sweet. So get cooking and enjoy the many ways the world makes noodles.
Vietnamese Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken
Rice vermicelli is the slippery foundation of super-fresh and super-healthy Vietnamese noodle salads, which are great eaten at room temp or chilled, and can support any number of toppings (like Vietnamese BBQ pork, grilled shrimp, or baked peanut tofu). Every version is packed with crunchy vegetables like carrots and bean sprouts, tons of herbs like basil; mint; and cilantro; and sparked by the beloved spicy-sweet-sour-salty nuoc cham dressing, with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chiles for heat. This version brings lemongrass chicken to the profusion of flavors and textures. Get the Vietnamese Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken recipe.
15-Minute Coconut Curry Noodle Soup
Aside from being a gorgeous shade of orange and incredibly tasty, this soup comes together in a single pot; and in only about 15 minutes! Can you say perfect weeknight supper? Red curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, garlic, ginger—this soup is not fooling around. There are chunks of chicken submerged in the spicy, complex broth along with rice vermicelli noodles. (For another super-quick bowl, try this wakame and corn vermicelli soup. And then there’s the sour-edged Malaysian classic assam laksa.) Be sure to garnish with plenty of fresh herbs. Get the 15-Minute Coconut Curry Noodle Soup recipe.
Pancit is a Filipino food mainstay, and there are lots of different versions of the sitr-fried noodle dish (such as ones with chicken and with pork). This version features a rich prawn gravy and an array of toppings (shrimp; calamari; boiled eggs; and pork belly) that you can modify to suit your taste. Technically, the recipe uses bihon noodles, which are a little thicker, but rice vermicelli will do just as well to sop up all the shrimpy sauce. And if you can’t find achuete powder at an Asian market, you can order it online. Get the Pancit Palabok recipe.
Vegan Peach Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce
Summer rolls are light and fresh, and a perfect vehicle for dipping up loads of creamy peanut sauce. We’re addicted to the traditional version with shrimp, as in our Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce recipe, but these are a beautiful vegan variation that add sweet, juicy peaches to the usual crunchy vegetables, aromatic herbs, and springy vermicelli in the filling. And yes, there’s a peanut sauce too. Get the Vegan Peach Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce recipe.
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