Chichi's Chinese: Dried Rice Noodles

packages of rice noodles

One of the nicest things about dried rice noodles is that they taste just like rice. That may sound like something too obvious to highlight, but hear me out.

Dried rice noodles (rice vermicelli, mai fun, mei fun, etc.) to me are a very different animal from fresh rice noodles (he fun). Fresh rice noodles are buttery and slick, with a springy quality. They contain no gluten but they can be al dente, like pasta. Whereas dried rice noodles are more frail and brittle. What's more, they have a sort of chalky, paper-y flavor that's intensely rice-like. (Or "ricey," if you will.)

When eating rice noodles, it's almost like you don't have to choose between rice or noodles—a good thing, for those indecisive days. And since they are so cheap and plentiful at the Chinese markets, it's easy to stock up on the gamut of noodle widths and shapes.

There are dried rice noodles as thin as thread; others as thick as spaghetti. Some look like bundles of twigs or kindling wood while others are perfectly smooth and straight. There are dried rice noodles that could be called rice bucatini for their hollow-ness, others that resemble pappardelle, and others that take the shape of tube macaroni and pasta shells.

With the incredible variety of shapes and sizes, you may be wondering how to cook them. Not to worry! A few general guidelines:

  1. Rinse after cooking. Unlike wheat noodles, for which leaving the film of starch can be advantageous, rice noodles tend to be paste-y without a rinse under cold water.
  2. Thinner noodles can be rehydrated in just-boiled water. No need to cook.
  3. Thicker rice noodles should be cooked gently, rather than at a rolling boil, so that the noodles don't break down in the water.
  4. Unlike wheat pasta, rice macaroni and shells will firm up once rinsed under water, so cook them until you think they're slightly overdone.
chinese noodles dish
Chichi Wang

Once cooked, you can use the noodles in soup or keep them dry. I like them more in dry form. In soup, they are a tad bland, and whatever seasonings you add invariably changes the soup more than the noodle. But stir-fried rice noodles absorb soy sauce, fish sauce, and chili oil very well.

Stir-frying dried rice noodles is much the same as stir-frying rice, in terms of the amount of oil, the seasonings, and the ingredients you want to add. Eggs, vegetables, ground meat—anything which can be parsed into little bits, works well for stir-frying with the noodles.

In fact, on nights when I feel like stir-fried rice but find myself without any leftover rice to use, I know I can turn to my shelves of rice noodles and produce something comparably delicious, in no time at all.