For years, Bánh Cuốn (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls) has never stop to demonstrate its long-lasting perfect comfort food to food lovers. When people need something light, delicate yet flavorful, Bánh Cuốn is an inescapable dish quickly passes voting to be named in the menu. For those are familiar with Bánh Cuốn, no savory substitute is likely. For those have not yet ever try the dish, once taste it, people soon fall in love with very light but flavorful and earthy rolls.
The origin and name of Bánh Cuốn
The origin of Bánh Cuốn is traced back from Northern Vietnam. No matter the exact date and time Bánh Cuốn was initially made, people seem not to deny that Bánh Cuốn has been made for years and served over and over. Bánh Cuốn is classified under wrap and roll dishes in Vietnamese cuisine as a dedication to its nature and the name itself. The dish features a thin and delicate steamed rice sheet fills with a variety of filling then rolls it up. In English words, “Banh” is pastry presents in both sweet and savory Vietnamese recipes. “Cuon” means the process to roll a pastry sheet with or without stuffing. Undoubtedly, Bánh Cuốn is named after its process in making a tasty roll.
How to make Bánh Cuốn
Visibly, a roll of Bánh Cuốn is finished from two main ingredients, steamed rice sheets and fillings. Rice sheets are made from the mixed batter of rice flours, tapioca starch and sometimes potato starch. Traditionally, makers grind white rice to have fresh rice flour in mixing with other ingredients. Only a small batch of rice is grinded each time to make enough rolls for consuming in a day. That tradition ensures no leftover rice flour is being used for the next batch to keep every roll is freshly steamed. While packed rice flour is now available at most markets, many questions raise regarding the hidden reason people still proceed with time consuming process.
A simple yet surprising answer is a secret to make an extremely thin, delicate and wide rice sheet without breaking. If using old-day flour, sometimes, it does smell strong flour-like and it really tastes differently. The traditional method to steam rice sheet is using a steamer, a kind of fabric covered pot put on boiling water. Steams release from the underneath boiling water will quickly cook rice flour, keep the sheet moist and workable. A ladleful of batter, mix from rice flour and tapioca starch with water, is poured and evenly spread out in a very thin layer on a cloth stretches across and places on top of the pot.
In less than a minute with the cover of a pot, a rice sheet should be done. It now turns out a transparent rice paper. Unlike other pastries, a delicate rice paper is lifted off the steamer by a flat and flexible bamboo stick and placed on a large tray. This is a tricky and not an easy technique for those who have not ever touched the steamer. A fabulous thinly cooked rice sheet is now ready for filling and rolling.
Bánh Cuốn filling
Filling comes with various recipes depend upon where you eat Bánh Cuốn. A delicious filling commonly taste across the country is ground pork mixes with finely chopped jicama, minced onion and shallot and dry fungus. All ingredients are well-incorporated and seasoning to taste with a few spoonfuls of fish sauce and a dash of ground pepper. The mixture, then, stir fry to throughly cook. A couple tablespoons of filling are placed on a hot rice sheet which is then fold up and roll. The transparency of a look-like rice paper exposes the stuffing inside signals an earthy and delicious roll is ready to serve.
Today, Vietnamese families across Vietnam and in the country outside Vietnam use non-stick pan to make Bánh Cuốn. The recipe remains the same with traditional one, the rice sheet won’t be as thin as steaming on the cloth covered pot but the result will still be satisfactory. Practically, this method is uniquely home-made and easy to use. It becomes very popular since many families now can make Bánh Cuốn at home and at any time they desire for a comfort roll.
Versions of Bánh Cuốn
Bánh Cuốn is made in different size and shape, each mirrors the culture and spirit of different regions through its own recipes and distinctive flavor.
In the North of Vietnam, a very famous southern district in Hanoi named Thanh Tri is a place for plain rice sheets. Without any filling, Bánh Cuốn Thanh Tri is well-known with its delicate, flavorful rice papers, a proud of local makers. Plain rice sheet is simply served with sliced “Cha lua”, fry shallots and “Nuoc mam cham” (mixed fish sauce).
In the Central of Vietnam, another roll of Bánh Cuốn called Banh uot tom chay (steamed rice rolls with dry ground shrimp). The filling makes from shrimp rather than ground pork. Shrimps are thoroughly cooked, dry and finely ground. Then, ground shrimp, or it is called shrimp powder is roll with a rice sheet. Sometimes, makers do not roll ground shrimp with a rice sheet but they sprinkle over the top of plain Bánh Cuốn. It tastes really light and earthy.
In the South of Vietnam, a popular roll is Bánh Cuốn with ground pork stuffing. It serves with Cha lua, bean sprouts, julienne Vietnamese basil and cucumber, fry shallots and Nuoc mam cham (mixed fish sauce). People often find a rice sheet is roll or place on the top with green onion as another derivation of Bánh Cuốn Thanh Tri. This is available in the market while Bánh Cuốn with filling is ordered in many restaurants.
How to serve Bánh Cuốn
Even though a comfort roll comes with various version of filling to couple with local taste and culinary culture, Bánh Cuốn always serve hot with Nuoc mam cham (fish sauce). In many restaurants, hot rolls will be made right after order. Fellow diners have a chance to lively observe how Bánh Cuốn is made before dining. Like other dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, Nuoc mam cham is a well-blend condiment to enhance flavor and make a dish tastier. Basically, fish sauce is mixed with water, sugar and lemon juice. It needs to be sweet and sour.
At some local restaurants, ground chili pepper is added for a little hot or it is put in a separate bowl for desired taste. Specially, in Hanoi, a bit of Belostomatid essence (use a head of a toothpick dip into the essence) is added to Nuoc mam cham as a traditional and distinctive flavor of the origin place of Bánh Cuốn.
As a tradition, Bánh Cuốn is commonly served as a breakfast. Today, it becomes a comfort food to be served all day long. It could be a light lunch in a hurry to catch up office work or a small dinner for a good time to chat with friends. In family, Bánh Cuốn is a perfect dish to gather members around, from preparation to making the rolls, and share the join with family.
Whatever Bánh Cuốn is steamed with traditional method or modern non-stick pan, a small or large savory roll with or without a variety of fillings, Bánh Cuốn is a perfect lasting favorite throughout Vietnam and of many visitors. Bánh Cuốn is an earthy roll which stuff all the culinary culture and spirit of different regions across the country. That is a comfort roll yet symbolizes diversity and flavor on its delicate.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen