March 27, 2008
59B Cao Thang Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh khọt thập cẩm – miniature fried pancakes sampler platter (30,000 VND)
Cơm gà rôti – rotisserie chicken with fried rice (35,000 VND)
Gởi mục Thái Lan – Thailand-style squid salad (70,000 VND)
The Astronomer and I finally made our way to Co Ba Vung Tau the other week to try the bánh khọt Wandering Chopsticks raved about. Bánh khọt are a specialty of the southern coastal city of Vung Tau and taste quite a bit like banh xeo due to their similar batters and accouterments.
Co Ba Vung Tau offers four different varieties of bánh khọt—shrimp, pork, oyster and cha ca (fish loaf). Since this was our first time trying the dish, we hedged our bets and ordered a sampler platter that included a few of each kind. To round out our meal, I went for a squid salad, while The Astronomer went for some chicken with rice.
The bánh khọt were delivered along with a large basket of herbs and greens. After our waitress poured some nuoc mam from a giant pitcher (pictured above) into our individual bowls, we proceeded to eat the bánh khọt just as Graham of Noodlepie advised:
Take a leaf (lettuce or mustard) and sling in a couple of herbs and pickles along with the bánh khọt itself. Make a small parcel and dip into the plain nuoc mam. Depending on the size of your gob and/or how much of a fat bastard you are, each green parcel should take around three bites to fully consume. It’s green ‘n’ lean and airyfairy enough that one diner could stuff in all eight cakes with ease.
Bánh khọt are simultaneously “airyfairy” and crispy. The Astronomer and I each ate four and could have easily downed twice as many if we hadn’t ordered the other dishes. We both liked the oyster bánh khọt best because of its intense flavor. Unlike the shrimp, pork and fish cake bánh khọt, the oyster variety could hold up against the nuoc mam and shrubbery. The texture of bánh khọt is really something special.
Although we came for the bánh khọt, the dish that really stood out was the squid salad. The pieces of squid were plentiful, fresh as can be and unbelievably tender. Ever since we indulged in the finest squid in the world during our trip to Phu Quoc last November, we’ve become quite the squid snobs. The squid salad at Co Ba Vung Tau magically transported us back to the sunny shores of Phu Quoc.
The Astronomer’s rotisserie chicken with rice was also well-executed. The buttery fried rice contained bits of scallions and eggs and tasted indulgent compared to the plain jasmine The Astronomer has grown accustomed to. The chicken was moist, crispy skinned and dressed in a five-spice marinade.