Oh. Dang. Just look at them…
Bánh rán is a deep-fried glutinous rice ball from northern Vietnamese cuisine. In Vietnamese, bánh means “cake” and rán means “fried.”
Its outer shell is made from glutinous rice flour, and covered all over with white sesame seeds. Its filling is made from sweetened mung bean paste, and scented with jasmine flower essence. Traditionally, the filling should be separated from the shell so that if one shakes the bánh rán, one can feel the filling rattle against the inside of the shell.
Bánh rán is very similar to a Chinese fried glutinous rice ball called zin dou (煎道), which is a standard pastry in Cantonese cuisine and Hong Kong cuisine. The Chinese version is generally slightly sweeter and does not have jasmine essence, and uses fillings such as lotus paste or black bean paste.
In southern Vietnam, a similar dish, called bánh cam, is nearly identical to bánh rán, but does not contain jasmine essence. A further difference is that for bánh cam the filling does not need to be separated from the shell. In Northern Vietnam bánh cam is different from bánh rán as it is traditionally eaten with a sugary syrup that is poured over the pastry.
While The Astronomer does the bulk of the donut eating in our relationship, I do have a few favorites. I first spied the gooey and sweet bánh cam on my morning run down Ton That Thuyet Street in District 4. Even though the donuts looked mighty inviting glistening in the sun, I couldn’t bring myself to eat one mid-run. Aside from the 4 X donut at Swarthmore, donuts and running just don’t go hand in hand.
I tried bánh cam two weeks ago on a Christmas shopping trip in District 5. The donut dealer sold her goods for 2000VND a pop, which I thought was a fine deal until I discovered that the vendors in District 4 only charged 1000VND. Insanity!
The caramelized sugar glaze atop the freshly fried dough is what makes this donut especially delightful. Unlike the light and fluffy trans-fat ridden donuts in America (i.e. Krispy Kremes), these are a bit on the dense side, so eating more than one is too much goodness for one day.