January 24, 2007
Vuon Chuoi Street (toward Dien Bien Phu Street)
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh Cóng (4,000 VND)
At first glance, I thought the lady was frying up some bánh tôm tây hồ—battered and deep fried julianned sweet potatoes with shrimp. Upon closer inspection, I came to realize I did not recognize what was bubbling away in her oil-filled wok.
It is truly a red letter day in Saigon when I stumble upon a food that I have not heard of or tried before, and my encounter with bánh cóng on Vuon Chuoi Street (toward Dien Bien Phu Street) in District 3 was no different.
A close-relative of bánh tôm tây hồ and a distant cousin of bánh xèo, bánh cóng is golden in color and muffin-esque in shape due to the unique ladle-like mold it is assembled and fried in.
Bánh cóng is comprised of mung beans, shredded taro root and shrimps with their heads, tails and skin intact. Each ingredient is layered in the deep, metal ladle and dipped in a saffron and scallion batter before meeting the scalding hot oil.
After just a few quick minutes in the intense heat, the bánh cóng are freed from their moldings to develop a crispy exterior solo. The cakes are served piping hot with a heaping pile of fresh greens and herbs and the classic nuoc mam sauce.
What I find most special about bánh cóng are the layers of taro and mung beans that comprise the cake’s base. These two ingredients brown beautifully and create a substantial and dense cake that is satisfying in a way that only carbohydrates can be. The greens and herbs delicately mask the cake’s oiliness, while the nuoc mam sauce ties all the flavors together like a champ.