Noodles You Should Know: Áp Chảo Chay

No matter how many noodles you know and love, there’s always more to discover. It’s a distinct joy and benefit to eating out; exploring global flavors without hopping on a plane, using your vacation days, or even coordinating a babysitter to watch the kids. Ordinary days are transformed into unforgettable ones with a single bite. That’s the story of how I first found out about Áp Chảo Chay.

What Is Áp Chảo Chay?

Áp Chảo means both pan-fried and sauteed, so what you get are sheets of fused noodles that are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s a multidimensional textural experience, and every bite is a bit different. Some pieces have a resounding crunch like a deep-fried wonton, while others have more of an al dente give. It’s unlike any other straight-forward stir fry and something everyone should have in their lives.

Chay
, of course, simply means vegetarian, so you get an assortment of tender-crisp fresh veggies and tofu, rounding out the meal.

Where Can You Find Áp Chảo Chay?

This Vietnamese specialty is surprisingly hard to come by in the states, which is why it took me so long to get my first, completely revolutionary taste. It’s not something you can simply order if it’s not on the menu, given the difficulty and time involved, but it’s worth asking around if restaurant owners know another place that could accommodate.

Many versions on the concept exist, of course, the most popular of which being Áp Chảo Bo, with beef. If you happen to find this, you can easily request it without meat; the rest of the dish is usually “accidentally” vegan without eggs or dairy, but you will want to specify in case fish sauce or oyster sauce come into play.

The specific noodles can vary as well. Some use wide, flat rice noodles (as seen here) while others use thinner pho noodles or even vermicelli.

How To Make Áp Chảo Chay

Though simple in concept, success rests solely on technique for this dish. To be honest, I haven’t been able to get it right yet, but there are plenty of people much more experienced in the art that can help guide you.

  • Wandering Chopsticks is truly the online authority on Vietnamese cooking, so I’d trust this version of Pho Ap Chao Bo implicitly. To veganize, replace the fish sauce with soy sauce, and use your favorite plant-based protein instead of beef.
  • Cooking Off The Cuff takes a more soupy approach, filling a bowl for this Phở Áp Chảo with hot broth to finish. Same notes for veganizing, though you could use vegetarian oyster sauce here if you can find it.

Not everything needs to be spicy, but if you’re a heat-seeker, stock up on hot chili oil to lavish on top. That bright finishing touch makes an already excellent dish utterly unassailable.

Try a new noodle tonight. There’s still so many more out there, waiting to be savored.

Meant To Be Broken

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it already is broken, it might not need fixing in the first place.

Broken rice (Cơm Tấm) is intentionally fractured, not defective. Once upon a time, in the earliest days of milling and manufacturing, it did begin life as the cheaper alternative to pristine long rice, though that’s no longer the case. In fact, it can command a premium price, especially overseas where it’s harder to find. Stumbling upon it randomly while perusing the endless aisles at MT Supermarket, I knew I hit the jackpot.

Contrary to the negative implications that might be associated with a “broken” item, it’s just as nutritious as any other whole grain. In fact, it has the added benefit of cooking more quickly due to the shorter, fragmented pieces.

If you think regular white rice is a brilliant blank canvas for soaking in flavorful sauces, just wait until you break this party up; impossibly porous, this segmented cereal drinks in every last drop like an edible sponge. Soft, sticky, tender yet toothsome, you get the best of all textures in every bite.

You could enjoy it in any other short grain rice recipe for a change of pace, though it’s most popular in Vietnam as street food. Flanked by pork chops, fried egg, meatloaf, pork skin, and sweet fish sauce, you would be hard pressed to find a dish any less vegan.

Rather than attempting to twist this dish into something utterly unrecognizable to accommodate my demands, I was inspired to break up with tradition and try a fresh approach.

Fragrant, subtly sweet, delicate and supple, this exquisite cracked cereal shines with a gentle approach to seasoning. Slightly nutty, warm and toasted, yet also bright and floral with hints of citrus, it’s already quite a prize cooked only in plain water. It would be a grave disservice to the grain if such a wealth of flavor was obscured. Thus, I merely accentuated the natural complexities locked within, adding a touch of sugar, salt, and a few drops of lemongrass oil. Butterfly pea tea (“blue matcha”) provides a bold blue hue, but the rich palate of flavors outshines even that vibrant veneer.

Serve with ripe mango, papaya, peaches, coconut, or any fresh fruit, really. Feel free to experiment! You can’t mess this one up; it’s already broken.

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Pho-Nomenal

Robust, deeply savory broth spiked with equally bold and nuanced spices are the defining characteristics of any successful bowl of pho. Rice noodles are an essential component, soaking in those carefully honed, painstakingly crafted layers of flavor, but never the stars of the show. It all comes down to the soup itself, sometimes simmered for hours, if not days, built upon generations of family secrets.

Celebrated across Vietnam and now the world at large, that same passion for the process sometimes gets lost in translation, especially when searching for a vegan option. Pho Chay, born of Buddhist traditions that take all forms of meat off the dinner table, is all too often a sad, watered-down tease. Plain vegetable broth is not an adequate substitution for this edible art, but if you don’t know any better, how can one possibly get the delicate seasoning right?

With as many recipes as there are cooks that make it, happily, there are no hard and fast rules for building a better broth. That’s why even a blatantly “inauthentic” rendition can still soothe those soulful soup cravings.

Inspired by the uniquely aromatic blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom found in Stash Chai Spice Black Tea, Pho Chai is both a crafty play on words and a delicious departure from the norm. The blend of strong Assam, muscatel Darjeeling, and well-balanced Nilgiri found in every sachet add surprising umami flavor along with unexpected sweet Indian spices. Energetic notes of cardamom and ginger brighten this bowl, harmonizing beautifully with the fresh spray of herbs piled on top. Perhaps the concept is dubious on paper, but unquestionably compelling on the tongue.

You’ll want to stock up on this warm, spicy tea for more than just soup. Head over to StashTea.com and use the promo code BITTERSWEET-SC to get discount off your purchase, and don’t forget to follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for both sweet and savory tea inspiration.

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Noodling Beyond Pho

Plumes of stream erupt in the dining room as waiters hurriedly scuttle oversized bowls from the kitchen to waiting eaters. Each one large enough for a small child to bathe in, filled to the brim with boiling hot broth and vermicelli noodles, each portion is like a self-contained bottomless buffet. No appetite can rise to the challenge, despite the compulsively slurpable soup, explosive with fresh chilies, redolent with bright lemongrass and fresh cilantro. You’d think this wildly popular order was something highly recognizable like pho, but you’d be wrong. Bún riêu, Vietnamese crab noodle soup, is the worst kept secret that the Western world is just catching onto.

Complicated to prepare, most recipes lay claim to over two dozen components for the soup base, let alone the additional garnishes that finish each bubbling cauldron. Given that difficulty and the expense of such luxurious ingredients, Bún riêu would typically be reserved for special occasions, but that distinction has faded with increased prosperity and accessibility. Still, if you’re hoping for a meatless facsimile when dining out, you’d be more likely to get struck by lighting on the way out to the restaurant. Few chefs see vegetarian alternatives for the distinctive texture and flavor of fresh crab… But they’ve clearly never experienced fresh yuba.

Since dreaming up this sweet-and-sour brew, I’ve come to realize how much more potential there is to play with substituting jackfruit, simmered until meltingly tender, should Hikiage Yuba remain out of reach. Standard tofu puffs, found in most Asian markets, can stand in for the more highly seasoned nuggets as well. Worst comes to worst, should all grocery stores fall short, you could simply saute some standard firm tofu until crisp on all sides and toss it into the broth. The only mistake here would be thinking that pho is the only spicy noodle soup to savor, without getting a taste of this hot rival.

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 Servings

Bún Riêu Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crab Soup)

Bún Riêu Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crab Soup)

Vietnamese crab noodle soup has flavors that rival the more commonly known pho, but rarely offer meatless alternatives. This one uses tender tofu in different forms to create a compulsively slurpable soup, explosive with fresh chilies, redolent with bright lemongrass and fresh cilantro.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

Soup Base:

  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 2 Medium Shallots, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3.5 Ounces Fresh Oyster Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
  • 1 (14-Ounce)Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 1/4 Cup Pineapple Juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock

Toppings:

Instructions

  1. Set a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove and begin by melting the coconut oil. Once shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, sauteing until aromatic and tender.
  2. When the vegetables begin to just barely take on color, introduce the tomatoes and pineapple juice, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks.
  3. Simmer for about 10 minutes before adding in the vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and vegetable stock.
  4. Cover and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes for the flavors to mingle and meld. The soup base can be made up to 4 days in advance, when properly cooled and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.
  5. To serve, simply divide the noodles, yuba, and tofu nuggets equally between 4 – 6 bowls, depending on how hungry you and your guests are. Top with a generous portion of broth, and pass around the crispy onions, mint and/or basil, scallions, and bean sprouts at the table, allowing each person to garnish their bowlful as desired. Slurp it up immediately, while steaming hot!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 276Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 181mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 16gSugar: 6gProtein: 11g