Banh cuon is a northern dish, and to my tastes it’s one of the better ones. It’s an occasional find on the streets of Saigon. This is the only stall (no. 1006) floggin’ this stuffed rice film pancake on Ben Thanh market and I come back here again and again. Banh Cuon hails from Thanh Tri district just outside Hanoi and it sounds simple enough; mashed up minced pork, mushrooms and prawns wrapped in a flimsy rice film. It comes served with sliced cucumber, cha lua (mortadella), beansprouts, sprinkled with deep-fried shallots and chopped mint with a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip. You’ll need a delicate touch to replicate this dish in your skullery.
You’ll also need a steamer, a ladle and a bucket of ready made rice flour mixed with water. A ladle full of the white mixture is spread across the skillet of the steamer covering the surface. It’s then covered for 30 seconds or so. So far so good. The tricky bit is the transfer of the cooked noodle pancake onto a clear surface to stuff with the meat. Tricky to explain, a bugger to do yourself. So, in a noodlepie first I shot a short, dial-up friendly lo-fi film of the making of Banh Cuon on Ben Thanh market. Quality’s not great, but click here to see a 1 minute 19 seconds clip (1.8MB) – I think you’ll need the Apple Quicktime plug-in to view it properly. The chef here is slick – I’m sure I’d get through several buckets of rice flour before I had anything approaching edible – the Banh Cuon process would be great fodder for an oriental edition of the Generation Game.
The dish itself is one of the lightest on the Vietnamese menu. In the north it’s a breakfast dish, but there’s something about thin rice flour pancakes which doesn’t appeal to me first thing in the morning. I need a few hours before I can attack anything gloppy and rice based. Having said that, in Hanoi I would often grab this as an after dark snack at a street stall opposite Hang Da market in the old quarter, so it’s not only early northern birds who can enjoy this countrywide. It’s a bargain at 8,000VD a throw. And one of the must-try’s at bonkers-good Ben Thanh market food hall. View the business card.