No matter what kind of street food tours in Hanoi you take, there are always Pho, Bun Cha, or Banh Mi on the must-try list. All of them have successfully stolen many visitors’ hearts and become famous on other continents. But don’t let their fame overshadow another beloved food of the Hanoians: Banh Cuon.
As Vietnam has a thousand-year-long history of wet-rice cultivation, you can notice that rice is the main ingredient in many of the country’s traditional dishes. And so is Banh Cuon. Simply, Banh Cuon (pronounced /baan goon/) is a Vietnamese steamed thin rice roll, that dates back even before the Tran Nhan Tong Dynasty 700 years ago. This dish is light yet flavorful, so the locals love to eat Banh Cuon for breakfast or as a snack between meals.
In the past, the sellers usually walked or cycled through the streets of Hanoi. If someone wanted to buy, they would stop by the sidewalk, weigh Banh Cuon on a small scale, wrap it with banana leaves, and give it to the buyers to bring home. Nowadays, Banh Cuon can easily be found in many local eateries, or street food vendors in Hanoi. Mostly it’s served on a dish. But in local markets, it will be sold by weight for the buyer to take home.
This Banh Cuon takes its name from Thanh Tri village, where making and selling Banh Cuon used to be the main way of making a living for every family in the village. Banh Cuon Thanh Tri is thin rice paper stacked up into layers. So when you order, the sellers will carefully separate each layer, cut it into smaller pieces, top it with fried onion, and serve it on a dish with dipping sauce. This is quite an interesting scene to watch because the layers look so thin that you might think that they will be torn. The best Banh Cuon Thanh Tri must be so thin that you can see through it. This requires the skillful hands of Thanh Tri women.
As time goes by, traditional Banh Cuon has a few other versions. They use minced pork, chicken, or shrimp as the filling. Banh Cuon is served as a warm dish with local herbs, Cha Lua (Vietnamese pork harm), and a dipping sauce made from the fishing sauce.
- Prepare the batter
Long ago, making Banh Cuon was such hard work and required a lot of steps. First, they soaked the rice in water overnight and ground it in the millstone. Then they added some salt and tapioca flour to the mixture in a certain ratio, so Banh Cuon might have a special softness and chewiness. Nowadays, to save time, you can easily buy rice flour for Banh Cuon in supermarkets with a recipe written in the packaging.
- Cook the filling
Put ground pork, and chopped ear mushroom together in a bowl, then add salt, pepper, and a bit of fish sauce for seasoning. Heat up the oil on medium heat, add chopped onion, and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the pre-seasoned ground pork, and chopped ear mushroom into the pan and stir until the pork is cooked all the way through.
- Make the dipping sauce
The dipping sauce for Banh Cuon is the sweet-sour, fish sauce-based one that you can usually find in many other dishes in Hanoi. Fish sauce, rice vinegar (or lime juice), sugar, and water in a ratio of 1,5: 1: 1: 4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then add some minced garlic (and chili if you prefer it to be spicy).
- Steam the batter
Wrap a white cloth on top of a pot with some water inside. Bring the water to a boil. Then spread the batter on top of the cloth as thin as possible. Close the pot lid for about 20 seconds, so the batter can be fully cooked.
Carefully use a bamboo stick to lift the thin rice layer, put it on a big plate, add some minced onion, ear mushroom, and ground pork on top and then wrap and roll it.
If you find it difficult or too complicated, an easier way is to use a frying pan instead. Make sure it is nonstick and has a lid. Firstly, put just a little oil into the pan, and heat it up. Pour a cooking spoon of batter. Close the lid to steam it for about 1 minute. Then “slide” the layer onto the plate and continue with the filling as mentioned above.
- Prepare side dishes and serve
Add some crispy fried shallots on top for more color, texture, and flavor. Vietnamese raw veggies and herbs (Vietnamese love their herbs so much). In the past, the locals had fried tofu as a side dish of Banh Cuon. But now they prefer Cha Lua (Vietnamese Pork Ham) instead for more flavor.
Or just wander around the streets of Hanoi, and notice any food vendor with steam coming off in the air and a sign “Banh Cuon”, there you can have a yummy dish of Banh Cuon to enjoy.
Join us on this Food Tour, we will follow Anthony Bourdain’s “footsteps” to savor Vietnam’s tastiest dishes, from North, Central, to South.