Rice stick noodles are flat rice noodles made in many parts of Asia. They can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups to stir fries, and they are readily available in most markets that stock Asian ingredients. For a specific variety, it is sometimes necessary to go to an Asian market.
The noodles are made either by blending rice flour and water to make a dough, or by soaking and grinding rice to create a paste. In either case, the dough or paste is rolled out on a flat surface and then cut to make noodles. The noodles are then dried, typically after being folded so that they will fit in a compact space. Sometimes, ingredients such as taro powder will be added to slightly change the appearance or texture of the noodles.
There are three basic widths of rice stick noodle: thin, medium, and wide. In all cases, the noodles are soaked in warm water before use to soften them, and when cooked, they turn slightly translucent, and classically rather chewy and sticky. These noodles are highly absorbent, so they pick up surrounding flavors very well, and they also absorb wet sauces, tending to swell in the process.
These noodles are used throughout Asia in a wide variety of dishes. Wide rice stick noodles are sometimes included in soups, while medium ones are the stars of the popular Thai noodle dish known as pad thai. Thin noodles may be fried and crumbled over dishes, used to stuff egg rolls, or included in soups and stews. Various stews and stir fries may be served on a bed of plain rice noodles to absorb the sauce.
You may hear rice stick noodles referred to as rice vermicelli, rice sticks, or simply rice noodles. They should be stored in a cool dry place, and they will keep indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to moisture. It can be a good idea to rinse the noodles before soaking them, to remove excess starch that could thicken the liquids in the dish or add a starchy flavor to the finished food.