Jan 2008

Bánh Tráng Phơi Sương

Although you’d never guess from my gastronomic adventures documented here, I am actually a creature of habit when it comes to everyday eating. I have a handful of lunchtime favorites that I could rotate through indefinitely without getting bored to tears, so it’s usually at the suggestion of The Astronomer that I try something new.

I had never heard of bánh tráng phơi sương until last week, when The Astronomer read about it on Pieman‘s site. In fact, Graham declared it his “favourite southern Vietnamese dish.” We headed over to Hoang Ty Restaurant (459-461 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, District 10) to experience the glory that is “rice pancake exposed in the dew (at night)” for ourselves.

Bánh tráng phơi sương, like a lot of Vietnamese dishes, is a DIY roll and dip number. It is comprised of seven distinct parts: greens/herbs, pickled carrots, daikon and leeks, bun (vermicelli rice noodles), slices of boiled pork, fresh bean sprouts, cucumbers and peppercorns, rice paper and nuoc cham. Hoang Ty had a special of sorts going on during our visit, so we received a complimentary plate of cha (pork forcemeat) with our lunch. Score!

I started with a sheet of especially rustic rice paper, tucked in some greens and herbs, piled on pieces of boiled pork (I prefer to double up), bundled up some noodles and lastly, added fresh and pickled vegetables. Although the rice paper looked delicate, it was actually quite a champ when it came time to roll. Dipped in a bit of nuoc cham, the bánh tráng phơi sương was very reminiscent of goi cuon (spring rolls) minus the hoisin suace.

The Astronomer appreciated the DIY aspect of this dish; being able to choose the exact ratio of meats, herbs, vegetables and greens suited him well. However, he was disappointed that the majority of the greens/herbs tasted a lot less exciting than they looked. Overall, The Astronomer thought that bánh tráng phơi sương was a fun eating experience, but an entire meal of it was a bit monotonous. For me, bánh tráng phơi sương was too mild. I prefer my pork with some punch, if you know what I mean.

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11 thoughts on “Bánh Tráng Phơi Sương

  1. Whenever my mom is tired from work and has to make a quick meal, she makes this (: It’s true that it’s a bit boring (I don’t mind lack of variety imo), but it’s only one meal o:

  2. Am with you on that pork lacking punch — I do like the DIY-style rolls for dinner though. So much stuff works with it. Once in HN I even had fresh, raw oysters wrapped up in rice paper (with different bits of herbs and other fillers) dipped in a wasabi-based sauce!

  3. ‘Fraid I don’t know the number — but it’s a big, big place, mostly on the street — on Phan Chu Trinh st. — at the other end from the Opera House.

    If you go to the junction where Lo Duc, Le Van Huu, Han Thuyen, Phan Chu Trinh all meet, then walk up P.C.Trinh, its on your left, about 100m up… look out for boxes of seafood.

    Then you can go to Maison Vanille on the other side of the road for dessert!

  4. In my opinion, the most important part of Bánh tráng phơi sương is not the rice paper but the variety of green and herbs that goes with it. The dish was originated from Tây Ninh province where those greens and herbs are (or used to) easily foraged along rivers/streams. I remember that there were at least 8-10 types of different greens/herbs, and from your photos, it seems that you didn’t have the chance to experiment with the usual abundance of greens that I used to enjoy when I went for this dish. Personally, I found this dish is one of the most exciting (endless fascinating combinations of crunchiness, flavors, and tastes from the greens, including young mango leaves – present in your top-left photo). It is also very Vietnamese because it very thanh (in Vietnamese): little meat, loads of vegetables, and even the fish sauce is very light comparing to other dishes that go with similar fish sauce. Apart from the vegetables and the rice paper, everything else is insignificant (except, maybe, the thinly slices of pork from near the pig’s ear, if they are offered).

    I found the presence of chả is somewhat a violation of the dish’s harmony :). Maybe the dish has been evolved (read commercialized) to cater the popular taste and the original exotic greens/herbs that used to come with are disappearing fast. I agree with you on the lack of punch from the meat, but that’s not the point. I expect to find the “punch” from the exotic greens/herbs (especially from rau xá xị and sao nhái) that you normally won’t find in any other Vietnamese dish.

  5. Dear Dong,
    I agreed with you. the dish you described is “Banh Trang Trang Bang” which has abt 10 different greens and herbs which dont even exist in the US from young mango leaves to some others that i dont even see anywhere in the US. those greens and herbs are the essence of “Banh Trang Trang Bang”. And if you feel slush then instead of boiled pork, replace it with grilled basa fish – it is to die for, guarrantee…I have introduced this dish to many of my White and Vietnamese American compatriots when they passed by here and no one has ever walked away unsatisfied. Some came back next time and ask for more…

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