January 31, 2008
Nguyen Khoai Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City
Due to the tropical heat in Saigon, it seems as though life actually happens during the edges of the day. And by life, I mean food. The best (i.e. freshest and most varied) stuff is sold either early in the morning or after the sun sets. Lunchtime equals nap time in these here parts.
Now that I’ve properly quit my day job, I’ve started to venture out at night to try the evening offerings. One of my favorites thus far has been bánh cuốn.
Making bánh cuốn requires a delicate touch. A rice flour batter is spread thinly over a hotplate to cook for a few scorching seconds. Removing the ever-so-thin crepe from the steaming plate takes precision and patience. If the process is rushed, one ends up with a ball of rice flour rather than a dainty crepe. Next, the crepe is stuffed with a prefabbed mixture of ground pork and woodear mushrooms seasoned with ground black pepper and fish sauce. The crepe is then folded up like an egg roll.
The six rolls of bánh cuốn on my plate were topped with blanched bean sprouts, basil, fried shallots, cha (pork forcemeat), nem chua (fermented pork forcemeat), banh dau (deep-fried mung bean cake), and a healthy dousing of nuoc cham.
The bánh cuốn were so fresh that the heat from the griddle were still with them. Ahh… The crepe was light and held the meaty contents well. The nem chua was decent as far as sour salami goes, but I much preferred the plain ‘ol cha. The banh dau was a spongy doughnut that soaked up the nuoc cham nicely.