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.
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!
Mexican fideos (which is just Spanish for “noodles”) are super similar to Italian vermicelli in shape and ingredients (wheat and water), but they are cut shorter before being packaged and are often toasted in oil for a richer flavor, rather than being boiled. You can use regular Italian vermicelli broken into smaller pieces in any fideos recipe.
And then there are “falooda sev,” an Indian form of vermicelli made with cornstarch! You can sub in Asian vermicelli for these if you’re not heading to an Indian market, or you can try making your own at home.
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.
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.
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.
Japchae is a Korean dish that uses dangmyeon noodles, which are cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch, and may be sold as Korean vermicelli. However, you can absolutely substitute rice vermicelli or other cellophane noodles. The gochujang, soy, and sesame sauce with rice vinegar, garlic, and ginger will be delicious on any of them, and they’ll all tangle up perfectly with the stir-fried veggies in this vegan masterpiece. Get the Spicy Vegan Japchae (Korean Stir-Fried Sweet Potato Noodles) recipe.
Here’s an elegant yet easy Chinese appetizer you can break out for your next get-together (or hustle up for your own dinner). Delicate steamed scallops are sauced with soy, garlic, ginger, and scallions, and nestled atop cellophane noodles. The scallop shells are a classy touch, but this is just as tasty served up on regular old plates. Get the Steamed Scallops with Garlic and Vermicelli recipe.
Whether you’re a Cup Noodles fan or team Instant Lunch, we’ve all grabbed some variation on the Styrofoam-packaged soup for a meal on the go, right? Well, here is a grown-up version you prep at home, which is not only way healthier but lets you customize your seasonings and add-ins. You still just add water when you want to eat. (For a dinner version that’s nearly as quick but cooks in a pot and feeds two people, get our Easy Chicken Pho recipe.) While the Mason jars are super cute, you could easily pack these in more practical microwave-safe containers that will better serve as bowls. This could even replace your ramen habit. Get the Mason Jar Instant Noodles recipe.
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.
In the Italian kitchen, you can top vermicelli as you would pretty much any pasta (for instance, with red clam sauce or with calamari, lemon, and herbs), but this is an unusual twist on noodles in which they’re fried into a crunchy cake. The recipe was born as a way to use up leftover pasta, and it happens to be a great vehicle for lots of other leftovers you might have languishing in your fridge, but it’s also good enough that you’d make a fresh batch just for this frittata. Get the Vermicelli Pasta Frittata recipe.
For another less-traditional pasta dish, try twirling your vermicelli with a roasted tomato sauce spiked with green chiles. Plus, there’s plenty of bacon and Parmesan cheese. (If you like this, you’ll probably also be into vermicelli with brown butter, sausage, and spinach.) Get the Green Chile and Bacon Vermicelli recipe.
Time for another soup, this one from Mexico. There is a Mexican noodle dish called sopa seca (or “dry soup”), which is actually a sort of chewy casserole, but this soup is brothy and earthy with cumin and garlic. Whether you find a package of noodles labeled fideos or you have to substitute broken vermicelli (or even angel hair pasta), you’ll be frying them golden-brown rather than boiling them before adding them to the tomato-based broth. Get the Sopa de Fideo recipe.
If you’re looking for a unique and stunning dessert, then here you go. Falooda is a popular Indian treat with Persian roots, multilayered and multi-textured (sort of akin to halo halo). This version uses rose syrup for a pretty pink hue and gentle floral dimension. It’s layered in the glass with strawberry or raspberry gelatin, chewy falooda seeds (or basil seeds, but you could also use chia seeds), soft vermicelli in lush rose-scented milk, and vanilla ice cream, with a crunchy pistachio garnish to contrast all the soft, creamy, chewy textures. (For another Indian sweet using noodles, try semiya payasam, or vermicelli kheer, and if you want vermicelli for breakfast too, make semiya upma.) Get the Falooda recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Bun bo Hue
— Head photo: Chowhound’s Easy Chicken Pho.