Above, is the first of seven, random, micro-excerpts from my Eating Việt Nam book which is published next week. Some thoughts on this dish, this place, this cook and this bit of my book below.
Cô Ba runs a restaurant on Highway 22. It’s about 30 miles north west of downtown Sài Gòn. Like many other restaurants in this province, she serves Bánh tráng phơi sương. If pushed, I would say that this is my favourite Vietnamese dish. It’s just thin slices of boiled pork, some small pickled leeks and a mountain of fresh herbs. Choose what you want. Wrap it all up in a Bánh tráng rice paper. Dip it in fish sauce and eat. Repeat, until full. Up to twelve different fresh herbs, leaves and greens can appear on your table with a serving of Bánh tráng phơi sương. It’s the herbs that give this dish the flavour. As Cô Ba says in my book,
“Vietnamese food is nothing without the herbs.”
And Bánh tráng phơi sương is host to more herbs than any other Vietnamese dish.
That’s Cô Ba. Behind herb mountain.
That there above is Bánh tráng phơi sương. For some reason, I only have photographs of eleven of the herbs. Here they are.
Cóc non – sour, used in canh chua.
Diếp Cá – fish mint. It smells of fish.
Hẹ – Chinese chives filled with an oniony, garlicky, leeky flavour.
Quế vị – sweet and tasty, good for backache apparently, sour taste.
Rau cần – Chinese celery.
Rau chùa – sorrel, sour and tart, biggest, glossiest leaf of the lot.
Rau nhái – has a yellow flower. According to the Internet, Rau nhái translates as Wild cosmos. Which I like. A lot.
Rau om – rice paddy herb, with a lemony citrus tang.
Rau sống – general term for green leaves found along the riverbed. Cô Ba cuts the young leaves from the whole bushes that are delivered to her daily.
Tía tô – perilla. Strong aromatic flavor.
Tràm ổi – Guava leaves.
Plush dining area.
The kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
The washing station at the back of the kitchen.
The TV is on. The altar is flashing. And all is right with the world.
A welcoming entrance.
Very unusual to see a portrait of a restaurant owner on a street sign.
Or on a business card.
Dining table satellite imagery of Bánh tráng phơi sương. This is an absolute must eat for anyone visiting Việt Nam.