Thursday, April 16, 2009

Banh Cuon - Vietnamese Rolled Rice Crepes

Banh Cuon - Vietnamese Rolled Rice Crepes

When I was commuting for the nearly 2 years to work in the Marina area, I made a point to stop over Chinatown for the Phu Huong roach coach (Alpine & Spring), a standard catering truck run by three very nice siblings – two brothers and a sister. They offered goodies such as Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi), charbroiled pork noodles (bun thit nuong), dried shrimp steamed rice cakes (banh beo), egg rolls (cha gio), charbroiled cured pork meatballs (nem nuong) and my favorite, fried Vietnamese sausage (cha chien). Though not the best representation of Vietnamese food, I loved the concept of one of my favorite foods served from a truck – just like tacos and Kogi BBQ. I know sooner or later, someone will be taking it back to Vietnam's true roots by setting up tiny plastic chairs and wooden tables and serving piping hot pho right out of a roach coach. What a beautiful thing.

I had come here so often that I had the guy's number on my phone. If I wanted a banh mi, I would simply call him 10 minutes before and do a drive by transaction. "Extra Maggi please, com ung!" But what I enjoyed most out of here was something my father first introduced banh cuon to me back in the late 80s, when the same truck was owned by another generation of Vietnamese people. I gladly chose this over a gross Happy Meal.

I had also come here so often that I knew that the purveyor of the banh cuon was always late or super lazy. Sometimes they'd be there at 8:45 am. Sometimes 9:45 am. Sometimes, not at all. This inconsistency drove me nuts as it STILL continues after 6 years. You would think this manufacturer gets the idea by now. NOPE. It was time to make it at home.

The recipes are adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, a book I really enjoy reading. Nguyen's recipe calls for prepartion in a skillet or pan. The best way to have these is through steaming, but not everyone has that equipment or the BTU's to do this. Watch it being made.

Banh Cuon - Vietnamese Rolled Rice Crepes

(1) Put the dried wood ear mushrooms in a bowl of warm water. If you can find fresh mushrooms, then avoid this process of reconstituting the dried version. Should take under 7 minutes. Dry and mince it up. Same with shallots. If you like garlic, feel free to add a clove.

(2) Sauté the shallots for a minute or two, then add ground pork with a little S&P. Add fish sauce to taste and sugar to balance out the salinity. This should take no longer than 5 mins. You don't want to overcook this as you will be letting it sit out to rest.

(3) Make a well in a bowl with all the flour and starches. Pour the water into the well slowly, using your other hand to slowly mix in the flour starting from the center, then outwards. You should get a mixture that is watery – it should not be goopy like pancake batter.

(4) In order to make this less frustrating, have a separate chopping board glazed lightly with oil on it ready. This is a lot of work as it took me at least 8 crepes to get it somewhat 'right'. Add a little oil into your pan on low-medium heat, and add about 2 tbsp. of the batter. Slowly swirl the batter around in a circle so that all of the mixture is being cooked. When it stops moving around in the pan, they are being cooked. Then cover the pan with a lid and let it steam for about 1-2 mins. You know you're ready when you can peel the edges of the crepe off, and you don't want to overfry this – it's supposed to be smooth in texture and resemble something steamed. Here's a trick to make your life a little easier. Using the end of a wooden spatula, bang the sides of the pot from the outside and see if the crepe shifts easily. This method prevents any tearing that may happen from using your fingers to grab the crepe.

(5) This is the hardest part. If you watched the video, you saw the lady geniusly use chopsticks to hoist the crepe over to a cutting board. Unfortunately, we are not in Vietnam. If you flip the pot over directly, you may not get a clean fall. You kind of have to come in at an angle, like from 3pm to 7-8pm. Now you'll know why it took me a good 8 times.

(6) This is the easy part. Refer to my egg roll diagram. It's pretty much the same, only the crepe is more delicate. When you do the main rolling, any extraneous parts, you can simply cut off or tuck underneath the crepe for aesthetics. The 'belly' of the crepe should be exposed, not the wrinkly 80 year old grandma skin.

(7) Serve with dipping sauce, boiled/steamed bean sprouts, fresh cilantro and fried shallots.

For this recipe, I found myself adding a little more water to dilute the batter as I tasted too much flour/starch. Otherwise, the recipe is very basic and can be done with patience. No holes in the kitchen walls this time. It tastes good but still doesn't beat the original steamed version.

***Note: The Phu Huong truck is now owned by new people, but they are actually offering more store, including Chiu Chow food like Fried Turnip Cakes with Eggs. Good when fresh, not under saran-wrap.

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

being vietnamese, banh cuon is my favorite vietnamese dish. i've only eatten it at the infamous banh cuon tay ho.

Oishii Eats said...

I think banh cuon is probably the most underrated Vietnamese dish. It gets no love.

I wish every day was a Tay Ho day!

Gastronomer said...

You're on a culinary roll! Keep the good home eats comin'.

Mai said...

I love reading your blog! You and your wife have really good taste buds. Thank you for sharing your stories and recipes!

dealinhoz said...

Anon, i love that and i love chinese steamed rolls (cheung fun) too. it's a lot of fun watching people make it. Which BCTayHo do you go to? The Westminster one is WAY better than the Rosemead one.

OE, it's a lot of trouble to make, maybe we just go to the roach coach haha.

Gastronomer, sometimes I think I'm part Vietnamese. Is it possible for food to cause you to have an identity crisi? More to come soon.

Mai, thanks for stopping by.

Nhiro said...

Based on the entries that I have read, I thought you were Vietnamese! (:

Props for going through the trouble of making the crepes yourself. My mom buys them already made from the market and then makes me separate out the gooey layers so she can assemble. All worth it in the end, I suppose.

Now I've got cravings.

The Traveling Lao said...

Love you blog. Yesterday's ode to pork was incredible. Today's posting brings back memories when mom would make banh cuon for the family. Time for a special request to mom's. Thanks!

Michelle said...

Ahhhhhh yum, my grandma makes the best banh cuon, I'm so gladdd you posted a recipe, now I'm gonna have to try these on my own!

Tricerapops said...

banh cuon is something i usually reserve for mom to make, i find the process very intimidating - so the fact that you were able to tackle this is very impressive. now i'm hungry.

Nanciful said...

Yum! I need to order this next time!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Mmmmm nice. I wish we had better Vietnamese food out here in NYC.

dealinhoz said...

Nhi, like I asked, could food cause an identity crisis? ha. I really love Vietnamese food for its balanced complexities and textures. Banh cuon is srsly a lot of trouble. Ohhhh, you mean banh cuon sheets? You just buy those and add the meat in them? I think i'd rather do it that way!

Traveling Lao, hey I'm part Laotian too. Look for a posting on Lao food really soon. Thanks for stopping by.

Michelle, thanks for stopping by.

Tricerapops, check out Nhi's comment as she's suggested an easier way to do this by buying banh cuon sheets.

Nanciful, hope you enjoy.

Marc, thanks for stopping by. You've got a real solid blog. I've only eaten at one place in Chinatown, and it was not memorable.

Anonymous said...

hi dylan,
you got me hooked on bahn cuon! i went to lil saigon last week and had some awesome north vietnamese food and then got some bahn cuon to go from a bakery. i love it!

Sandy said...

I'm impressed that you made banh cuon. Martha Stewart once had an episode (the pre-prison version of her tv show) where a woman made banh cuon. I think she put fabric over a large stockpot (think of a drum); the batter was poured on top and thus steamed.

What cracked me up was that Martha said, "It's so easy." Ha - easy when someone else is doing the work. Then again, Martha says everything's easy.

RecipeOfTheWeek said...

Oh my goodness...I cut eat a bucket of banh cuon and still not feel full! It's so addicting!

Anonymous said...


e d b m said...

advalencia, no need to panic. the new truck is called Nam Thai and they are still parked on Spring/Alpine, replacing the former Phu Huong truck. They serve the exact same stuff with even more food like steamed rice cakes (banh beo) and fried turnip cakes. these people are nice as well.

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