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.
Even though banh ran is a northern specialty, I was lucky enough to find a version down south. Or rather, it found me. I was noshing on noodles at the lunch lady’s stall when a dude selling banh ran approached my table. My dining companion Nina bought a few and kindly shared one with me.
The mung bean innards were at one with the shell, so there wasn’t much rattling going on, but the banh ran was still pretty great (and greasy). However, as a whole, I prefer its Saigon counterpart banh cam because I like my sweets very sweet.