A glass noodle salad is a cold dish made with a specific type of starch-based noodle, vegetables, seafood or white meat, and a spicy or mild dressing. These noodles are believed to have originated in China, but yam wun sen, a spicy Thai salad made with glass noodles, pork, and prawns, is one of the most notable versions of the salad. Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese cuisines also have their own glass noodle salads, and "Asian-inspired" cuisine found in Western countries may create hybrid versions of this salad by combining the noodles with flavors from multiple Asian countries.
Most glass noodles are made from mung bean starch, but some cultures and manufacturers prefer using starch from potatoes, cassava, yams, or sweet potatoes, instead. Manufacturers sell glass noodles in a dried form, but the noodles take on a highly elastic quality when cooked. These noodles are also translucent when soaked or cooked in water, which is how the term "glass noodle" came about. For this same reason, these noodles are called cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles, and crystal noodles, as well. In addition to salads, glass noodles are commonly used in Asian soups, stir-fries, and spring rolls.
To prepare glass noodle salad, the cook begins by soaking the cellophane noodles in warm water until they start to become soft and translucent. Afterward, the noodles are cut into their desired length and cooked in boiling water several minutes longer. Once they become elastic, the noodles are removed from the boiling water and dunked into cold water. All the water is drained and the noodles are set aside until the rest of the salad is prepared.
Any vegetables and protein used for the salad are prepared next. Yam wun sen, arguably the most common type of glass noodle salad, traditionally includes mushrooms and thin slices of tomato, onion, and celery. Minced pork and prawns are the most traditional sources of protein found in this type of glass noodle salad. The pork and prawns are cooked, cooled, and cut into fine pieces, and the vegetables are also cleaned and cut. All of the ingredients are then tossed into the noodles and set aside while the dressing is made.
The dressing is prepared last. It is important to add the dressing at the very end, just before serving, since the noodles will become very heavy and hard to chew if they soak in the liquid for an extended period of time. Standard yam wun sen dressing is relatively spicy and made with fish sauce, lime juice, coriander, and red chillies. Once mixed, the dressing is poured over the rest of the salad ingredients, and the entire glass noodle salad is given another quick toss to spread the flavors around.
Other versions of glass noodle salad may use other meats, sauces, or types of cellophane noodle. The standard round noodle made with mung bean starch is common to the Thai salad, but in northeast China, thicker versions are used. Japanese cuisine usually uses glass noodles made of potato starch, and Vietnamese cuisine uses versions made from either mung bean or canna starch. Other protein sources, like chicken or tuna, may be used in place of pork and prawns, but red meat is very uncommon. The dressing also varies by culture and individual taste, with some versions remaining spicy while others are milder.