Archive for the 'Banh Cuon' Category

Hoàn Kiếm – Los Angeles (Chinatown)

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

Named after Hanoi’s misty and mystical “Sword Lake,” Hoàn Kiếm in Chinatown serves just three dishes on weekdays and four on weekends. While the kitchen’s repertoire might seem limited, the menu has actually doubled in size since the Ho family first opened the restaurant in 1989.

The proprietors, who hail from Halong Bay, a city more famous for its limestone karsts and isles than its cuisine, draw upon family recipes that have been passed down for several generations in executing each of their specialties.

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

Most popular here is the banh cuon, steamed crepes filled with seasoned ground pork and Woodear mushrooms. Its texture was chewier than the banh cuon I’ve sampled in Saigon, Hanoi, and Grandma’s house, which signaled more tapioca starch and less rice flour in the batter. While The Astronomer and I weren’t gaga about the texture, we were both pretty stoked to try a new rendition of a beloved dish.

Hoan Kiem - Chinatown - Los Angeles

The nuoc cham (fish sauce vinaigrette) served alongside, as well as the slices of pork loaf and fried shallots, were wholly familiar. A dab of chili sauce from the condiments made everything taste even better.

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One Final Hurrah in Saigon: Vietnamese Crêpes

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

For our final meal in Saigon, our friend Hawkins insisted on lunch at Bánh Cuốn Hải Nam. Narrow as can be, this restaurant has been serving the city’s best crêpes for decades. While service and decor is mostly minimal, the food keeps customers coming back time and again.

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

The restaurant’s tidy alfresco kitchen faces the street, greeting customers with the aroma of hot crêpes as they walk in.

Banh Cuon Hai Nam - Ho Chi Minh City

Every serving is steamed and stuffed to order in the minimalist kitchen. We didn’t wait but a moment for our plates of the house special bánh cuốn to arrive.

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Bánh Cuốn Hai Nam Saigon – Alhambra

Although I’m not certain, I have a sneaking suspicion that my non-food-obsessed friends might be a little afraid of offering up restaurant recommendations to me. I think it’s the slim possibility of a bad meal and a ridiculing review to follow that keeps them mum. I was recently made aware of this situation when making plans to lunch with my friends William and Anne from college. Since William grew up in Monterey Park and knew his way around the San Gabriel Valley’s panoply of delights, I asked him to choose our dining destination. William hemmed and hawed, and after a dozen or so email exchanges, he still couldn’t offer up a single restaurant name. His nervous reaction had me feeling unnerved and even questioning my restaurant snobbery. Am I really that difficult to please? It’s a distinct possibility.

I felt like I took a huge weight off William’s shoulders when I suggested Bánh Cuốn Hai Nam Saigon in Alhambra. I had been wanting to try this restaurant ever since gas•tron•o•my reader Sharon recommended it to me, and this was the clearly the perfect opportunity.

The small eatery was packed on the Sunday afternoon we dined. I was happy to see large groups of friends and smiling families gathering around communal tables sharing huge plates of banh cuon. The positive vibes emanating from patrons had me in good spirits and excited about my meal.

While we waited for a table to open up, my friends and I perused the large picture menu hung outside. [Click on the photo for a better look.]

One of the huge pluses of dining with people who “eat to live” was reigning supreme over the ordering. Vietnamese rice flour crêpes prepared in every which way are the specialty at Bánh Cuốn Hai Nam, so I ordered three different varieties to share. The Banh Cuon Dac Biet Hai Nam ($5.80) arrived first.

The restaurant’s “special” platter consisted of an ample mound of rice flour crêpes topped with chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage), bánh cóng (battered and deep-fried mung beans, shredded taro root, and shrimps), bánh tôm hồ tây (battered and deep-fried julienned sweet potatoes with shrimp), mint, fried shallots, cucumber, and blanched bean sprouts. We drenched our banh cuon in nuoc mam, which was available in a huge jug tableside.

In the pantheon of Vietnamese dishes, banh cuon is one of the easier ones to get right, just as long as the crêpes aren’t too thick and the toppings aren’t too greasy. The flavors here were right on and wholly satisfying. The varied selection of toppings made the dac biet platter a fantastic choice.

Next, we dug into Banh Uot Thanh Tri ($5.15). I specifically ordered this dish because I was curious as to what “Thanh Tri”-style banh uot entailed. Even after polishing off the plate, I couldn’t figure out what made it particularly notable.

When I arrived home, I powered up the Internet to investigate. I found that the dish originated in Thanh Tri, a neighborhood outside of Hanoi. I also found a Chowhound thread discussing the very topic. According to Alice Patis of Alice’s Guide To Vietnamese Banh, “Thanh tri is basically just non-rolled, non-filled [crêpes].” I also asked my mother and grandmother their thoughts. They both believe that the only difference is semantics—Southerners call it banh uot, while Northerners call it banh uot Thanh Tri.

The bottom line is that the flavors are more or less “same, same,” especially when doused in nuoc mam.

Lastly, we went to town on the Banh Uot Cuon Nhan Thit ($5.25), crêpes stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. The crêpes were nice and thin, while the filling was well-seasoned and plentiful. I would’ve appreciated a slightly warmer temperature, but it was solid product regardless.

UPDATED: The Astronomer and I revisted this restaurant with my mom and had a terrible experience. The food was subpar, especially the nuoc mam, and we found a dead cockroach beneath the table. Gross and grosser. I am definitely not returning here anytime soon.

Bánh Cuốn Hai Nam Saigon
1425 E Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91801
Phone: 626-300-8079

Bánh Cuốn – Vietnamese Rice Crepes with Ground Pork and Mushrooms

The literal translation for bánh cuốn is “rolled cakes.” A more apt translation would be “Vietnamese crêpes stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms.” In Vietnam, bánh cuốn is consumed for breakfast and as a late night snack.

For years, my Bà Ngoại (maternal grandmother) made bánh cuốn using a prefabbed batter that she purchased from the Vietnamese supermarket. The grocery store-bought batter yielded passable bánh cuốn, but my grandma always felt that the crêpes’ consistency was slightly off. While reading a local Vietnamese-language newspaper recently, Bà Ngoại stumbled upon a bánh cuốn recipe that looked very promising. She followed the instructions to a T and was very impressed with the results. The combination of rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch makes for a light and thin crêpe without a trace of glueyness.

For crêpes

  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5.5 cups water

For filling

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup wood ear mushrooms
  • 4 shallots, finely chopped
  • Fish sauce
  • Black pepper
  • Sugar
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Make crêpe batter

In a large bowl, whisk together rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch. Whisk in water and oil until blended. Let the batter rest for one full hour before proceeding. [See images of the various flours’ packaging after the jump.]

Make filling

While the crêpe batter is resting, prepare the meat filling.

In a small bowl, cover the wood ear mushrooms with boiling water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain and chop the mushrooms.

In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil. Add the ground pork and the shallots and cook over moderate heat until no pink remains. Break up the meat with a spatula. Stir in the chopped mushrooms. Season with fish sauce, black pepper, sugar, and MSG to taste. Set aside.

Mise en place

The process of making bánh cuốn requires one to work quickly and efficiently, so make sure that all ingredients are within reach before starting—batter, filling, and additional oil.

Assemble bánh cuốn

Grease a large plate using a non-stick spray or a paper towel dipped in oil. Set aside.

Heat a ten-inch non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Lightly mist pan with non-stick spray if using a plain skillet. Ladle in about a half cup of batter, quickly swirl to evenly coat the skillet, and then quickly pour the excess back into the batter bowl. Note: the batter should sizzle when it hits the pan. Cover the pan with a lid for approximately 30 seconds.

The crêpe is ready to be inverted once the edges start to release themselves. Invert the crêpe onto the greased plate in one swift motion. Don’t worry if the crêpe’s sides fold inward. Be sure to re-grease the plate after every three crêpes or so.

Spoon about one tablespoon of the pork and mushroom filling into the center of the crêpe. Fold in the sides to cover the filling and form a neat rectangle. Transfer the finished bánh cuốn onto a different plate.

It is best to fill and fold the bánh cuốn while the crêpes are cooking. The time that it takes to fill and fold the bánh cuốn is comparable to the time that it takes for the crêpes to cook. The bánh cuốn making process goes by rather quickly once a rhythm is established.

Serve bánh cuốn warm or at room temperature with nuoc cham. Garnish with fried shallots, steamed mung bean sprouts, julienned cucumbers, and cha lua (Vietnamese pork loaf).

Makes approximately 30 to 40 bánh cuốn.

Continue reading ‘Bánh Cuốn – Vietnamese Rice Crepes with Ground Pork and Mushrooms’

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