Vietnamese Garlic Noodles

5 from 8 votes

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These umami-rich East meets West noodles, created in San Francisco, are the very definition of comfort food.

Vietnamese Garlic Noodles piled on green plate with sides.

This is the kind of noodle dish that you will find yourself kind of hunched over, slurping away until you hit the bottom of the bowl. The words “comfort food” might have been invented to describe this recipe.

These noodles are like a slightly East meets West Vietnamese-American umami bomb. The East part is the oyster sauce and fish sauce, and possibly the noodles if you pick Asian wheat noodles. The West part is the butter (use the best butter you can — it will make a difference), and also perhaps the pasta, if you choose spaghetti. European-style butter has a higher fat content than most commercial American butter, resulting in a richer taste. You can’t really go wrong on the pasta part. I have made it with pantry-staple spaghetti, but also love using Japanese ramen for its fun, chewy, slightly slippery texture.

These would be great with anything from a simple Baked Chicken Breast to Lemongrass Salmon to Hoisin Shrimp. Or pair them with Vietnamese Mango Salad with Shrimp.

Vietnamese Garlic Noodles in wok.

Vietnamese Garlic Noodles: These umami-rich East meets West noodles, created in San Francisco, are the very definition of comfort food.

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San Francisco Garlic Noodles

The origin of this dish is like the following of a comfort food trail across cultures. Apparently, they were created in the 70s by a Vietnamese-American chef living and cooking in San Francisco, Helene An. She enjoyed some Aglio e Olio (spaghetti with garlic and oil) at an Italian restaurant and set out to create an Asian version of the dish exploding with umami flavor. She popularized these buttery, garlicky noodles at her restaurant Thanh Long, where they are a signature dish (sometimes served with crab, which I am dying to try!).

Now these garlic noodles appear in Vietnamese and Asian restaurants across the country. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt helped give these noodles a cult following, and once you try them, you’ll find yourself dreaming about them. Luckily, they can be pulled together in about 20 minutes, making them perfect for an easy weeknight pasta dinner.

I also think these would be very welcome after a night of one too many drinks. Hangover noodles, if you will.

Vietnamese Garlic Noodles Ingredients

Once you make this for the first time, you’ll probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry and fridge for the next time!

Noodles, garlic, scallions, shallot, and Asian sauces on white marble surface.
  • Noodles – You can use pretty much any kind of long thin noodle you like. Choose from Chinese wheat noodles, spaghetti, or Japanese ramen.
  • Finely minced garlic – Do not skimp on the garlic! There is a reason garlic is in the name of the dish. Add the remaining ingredients as soon as it starts to turn golden and become fragrant.
  • Shallot – You can use 1/4 of an onion instead.
  • Oyster sauce – A small amount contributes to the umami flavor. You can double the amount if you want a more potently flavored dish.
  • Fish sauce – Like the oyster sauce, this is used sparingly, but you can up the amount for a bolder flavor. If you want a vegetarian dish, make your own vegan fish sauce or look for a store-bought vegan fish sauce.
  • Sugar –Just a touch to smooth out the salty rich flavors.
  • Unsalted butter – Another ingredient to pay attention to! Use the best butter you can find here. European-style butter is great, with a higher fat content than your basic American supermarket butter.
  • Freshly ground black pepper – Be generous!
  • Scallions – Use both the white and the green parts of the scallion; just trim off the root and the very top. Save some for garnishing.

Variations and Substitutions

This dish is quite simple, and deliciously so. But if you want to give these Asian garlic noodles a little more oomph, you can add:

  • 2 cups sautéed sliced shiitake or cremini mushrooms.
  • Shrimp, crab, sautéed vegetables, and fish roe are other excellent additions. Lopez-Alt likes pollack roe, and salmon or flying fish roe as an add-in.
  • I also think a bit of crumbled dried chilis would be great, though admittedly, it would change the simple, cozy flavor profile of the dish.

How to Make Vietnamese Garlic Noodles

  1. Cook the noodles: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles until al dente but not fully cooked. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Set the noodles aside.
Cooking spaghetti in boiling water and draining.
  1. Make the sauce: Melt the butter in the same pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring, just until barely golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.
  2. Toss everything together: Add the drained pasta to the sauce with 1/4 cup of the reserved water and half of the scallions. Use tongs to toss until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. If the pasta seems dry add 2 or more tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water.
  3. Serve and garnish: Serve hot, garnished with the remaining scallions.
Tossing and serving Vietnamese Garlic Noodles.

Cooking Tips

  • Reserving some of the pasta cooking water to add to the sauce is a technique used in Italian and other Western cooking, and it works beautifully here. The pasta cooking water contains some of the starch released from the pasta. This starchy water helps thicken the sauce and gives it body and some silkiness. Plus, since the cooking water is salted, it also provides added flavor. Go very easy on any additional salt, as the pasta water, oyster sauce, and fish sauce all contain salt as well.
  • Be sure not to let the garlic brown when you cook it; just allow it to barely turn golden. If you let it get too brown, it will start to taste burnt. Add the remaining ingredients as soon as it starts to become fragrant and turn a bit golden.

What to Serve With Vietnamese Garlic Noodles

Serving Vietnamese Garlic Noodles on green plate.

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5 from 8 votes

Vietnamese Garlic Noodles

These umami-rich East meets West noodles, created in San Francisco, are the very definition of comfort food.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6 People
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Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt (to taste)
  • 10 ounces dried Chinese wheat noodles, spaghetti, linguine, or Japanese ramen (see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
  • 1 large shallot (thinly sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably European style)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (be generous)
  • 10 scallions (sliced; white and green parts together; divided)

Instructions 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles until al dente but not fully cooked. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Set the noodles aside.
  • Melt the butter in the same pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring, just until barely golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.
  • Add the drained pasta to the sauce with 1/4 cup of the reserved water and half of the scallions. Use tongs to toss until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. If the pasta seems dry add 2 or more tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water.
  • Serve hot, garnished with the remaining scallions.

Notes

  • You can find Asian noodles at many well-stocked supermarkets or look for them online. I like Japanese ramen in this dish.
  • Reserving some of the pasta cooking water to add to the sauce is a technique used in Italian and other Western cooking, and it works beautifully here. The pasta cooking water contains some of the starch released from the pasta. This starchy water helps thicken the sauce and gives it body and some silkiness. Plus, since the cooking water is salted, it also provides added flavor. Go very easy on any additional salt, as the pasta water, oyster sauce, and fish sauce all contain salt as well.
  • Be sure not to let the garlic brown when you cook it, just allow it to barely turn golden. If you let it get too brown, it will start to taste burnt. Add the remaining ingredients as soon as it starts to become fragrant and turn a bit golden.

Nutrition

Calories: 291kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0.3g, Cholesterol: 20mg, Sodium: 1285mg, Potassium: 177mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 439IU, Vitamin C: 5mg, Calcium: 39mg, Iron: 2mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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7 Comments

  1. Tisha says:

    These are my go-to when I just can’t decide what to make for dinner. Love the simplicity

  2. Helen at the Lazy Gastronome says:

    I served this with tempura shrimp and it was wonderful. The flavors are subtle but rich. I let my husband have the shrimp. I filled up on these awesome noodles!!

  3. Leslie says:

    So simple yet so perfect! Love the garlic flavor in this noodle recipe!

  4. Amy says:

    I love this recipe. Have tried it now with Chinese egg noodles, spaghetti (cause I had leftovers) and udon. Think the egg noddles were the best option.

  5. Krystle says:

    I love pasta and this was so good. I’ll make it again soon!

    1. Wendy says:

      Saw this recipe, made it, and loved it. Will do it again with chicken, or shrimp. Yum.

  6. Tina says:

    These garlic noodles are so good!!