While the children in America chomp down on Trix and Pop Tarts for breakfast, the kids in Vietnam dig into plates of savory bột chiên.
Every morning on Ton That Thuyet Street in District 4, there’s a small herd of uniform-clad school children huddled around the bột chiên lady waiting for their portions to be dished out.
“Fried dough” is the literal translation of bột chiên, but the dish is actually much more interesting (and not the least bit doughnut like).
Little pieces of fried dough made of rice flour form the base of the dish. The doughy squares, along with a generous amount of oil, turn golden and crispy on the hot skillet.
Once an order is placed, the vendor cracks an egg (or two) and a sprinkling of scallions over the dough. The fried dough, egg and scallion omelet is garnished with shredded carrots and daikon or green papaya and dressed with a spicy nuoc tuong (soy-based sauce with chilies) sauce.
Each ingredient in this simple dish plays an essential part in the overall flavor. The eggs enhance the dough with texture and body. The fresh vegetables cut the dough’s oiliness. And the nuoc tuong provides a deep saltiness that ties all the ingredients together.
According to my aunt Phung who resides in HCMC, bột chiên is more of a light snack than a traditional breakfast food. Perhaps the West’s egg-intensive breakfast ideal has influenced Saigon, or at least District 4.