Nov 2007

Bánh Cam

Oh. Dang. Just look at them…

Bánh rán is a deep-fried glutinous rice ball from northern Vietnamese cuisine. In Vietnamese, bánh means “cake” and rán means “fried.”

Its outer shell is made from glutinous rice flour, and covered all over with white sesame seeds. Its filling is made from sweetened mung bean paste, and scented with jasmine flower essence. Traditionally, the filling should be separated from the shell so that if one shakes the bánh rán, one can feel the filling rattle against the inside of the shell.

Bánh rán is very similar to a Chinese fried glutinous rice ball called zin dou (煎道), which is a standard pastry in Cantonese cuisine and Hong Kong cuisine. The Chinese version is generally slightly sweeter and does not have jasmine essence, and uses fillings such as lotus paste or black bean paste.

In southern Vietnam, a similar dish, called bánh cam, is nearly identical to bánh rán, but does not contain jasmine essence. A further difference is that for bánh cam the filling does not need to be separated from the shell. In Northern Vietnam bánh cam is different from bánh rán as it is traditionally eaten with a sugary syrup that is poured over the pastry.

While The Astronomer does the bulk of the donut eating in our relationship, I do have a few favorites. I first spied the gooey and sweet bánh cam on my morning run down Ton That Thuyet Street in District 4. Even though the donuts looked mighty inviting glistening in the sun, I couldn’t bring myself to eat one mid-run. Aside from the 4 X donut at Swarthmore, donuts and running just don’t go hand in hand.

I tried bánh cam two weeks ago on a Christmas shopping trip in District 5. The donut dealer sold her goods for 2000VND a pop, which I thought was a fine deal until I discovered that the vendors in District 4 only charged 1000VND. Insanity!

The caramelized sugar glaze atop the freshly fried dough is what makes this donut especially delightful. Unlike the light and fluffy trans-fat ridden donuts in America (i.e. Krispy Kremes), these are a bit on the dense side, so eating more than one is too much goodness for one day.

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7 thoughts on “Bánh Cam

  1. oh wow! those look so good. i have never seen the version with the sugar syrup on the outside. but i always thought that banh ran and banh cam was interchangeable. thanks for teaching me something new.

  2. The definition above is from Wikipedia, which could either be right on or bogus… From what they wrote, it sounded like the two names were interchangeable, depending on whether you were in the north or south.

    I never saw the syrupy topping until Vietnam ;-).

  3. Oh, those look so good ! I am a northerner by family tradition but was born and raised in Saigon so I also consider myself a southerner. I had enjoyed both banh cam and banh ran when I was living there but only banh ran here in the US. I can’t wait to try banh cam again ! They do taste quite different so I don’t think they are the equivalent versions of the same banh.

  4. The mung bean paste in banh Ran is sweeter and lightly aromatic, sometimes blended with shreded coconut when it migrated south, while the one in banh Cam only has a touch of salt. Do not forget that banh Cam are sold together with banh Vong (vong means ring) whose shape is similar to a thin donut with a hole. Like banh Cam, banh Vong has caramel on top but has no mung bean filling. The original banh Cam and banh Vong do not have sesame like banh Ran. Banh Ran is from the North while banh Cam and banh Vong the South. Look good but do not pour too much caramel on top.

  5. i make banh ran but some how it is not stay hard long enought, about 1 hour please help me how to make it stay longer. i put 16oz of sweet rice flour, 1cup of rice flour, 1cup of potatoes starch, 1 cup of sugar, 1 bag of baking soda.

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