Street Food Challenge #2: Bánh cuốn

Last week, I challenged myself to make all my favorite street foods from Southeast Asia.  More than anything, these recipes require patience, practice, and a little bit of bravery.  Here’s what my list looks like so far:

  1. Sweet roti
  2. Bánh cuốn
  3. Kao soi
  4. Vegetarian steamed buns (salapao)

The list is short but intimidating…like my aunt, Pa Boun.

For Fiesta Friday #11 and Challenge #2, I will be tackling a Vietnamese rice crepe recipe.

Like its neighbors, Laos exhibits an overlap of various national dishes, and as a child I was often confused about what is actually Lao food.  I stopped eating meat when I was 14, so it has been hard for me to enjoy bánh cuốn as it is traditionally served: filled with minced pork, with slices of Vietnamese ham on the side.  Mom has made it a few times with minced tofu, and this is the route I’m taking today.

In Vientiane, Mom’s favorite bánh cuốn vendor was right down the street from Grandfather’s house.  They are typically a breakfast item there, so you had to get up fairly early to catch a taste.  The cook sits on the front stoops of a cubby-hole shop, deftly pouring and folding rice batter.  One morning, Mom sweet-talked her into making a single order of bánh cuốn with only mushrooms and herbs.  She had to make a fresh batch of filling (because no one eats meatless bánh cuốn), which took time out of her busy morning.  But since Mom also bought what remained of her regular supply, the lady was happy to oblige.

When I moved away for graduate school in 2010, Mom gave me a two-month supply of non-perishable ingredients that are essential to traditional meals, for fear that I would get too homesick.  I quickly used up that original batch of oyster sauce, sticky rice, fish sauce, rice noodles, and various other condiments.  But one item remained unopened: a bag of bánh cuốn rice batter mix.  It just sat there in the pantry, symbolizing my fear of delicate recipes…

Filling
Peppers and garlic for nam chim

I don’t have a traditional cloth steamer, but Mom said a really good non-stick pan would work.  Once you get the temperature of the pan  just right and practice a few times, it’s not too bad.

Tofu Bánh Cuốn with Nam Chim

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 package extra firm tofu, minced
  • 1/2 cup rehydrated woodear mushroom, finely sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • Bánh Cuốn rice batter mix
  • Fried shallots and steamed mung bean sprouts for garnish

Nam Chim (Dipping sauce)

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 4 Thai chilies (less if you prefer it milder)
  • 1 clove garlic

1. Soak the woodear mushroom if you purchased them dehydrated. It may take up to an hour for them to fully reconstitute.

2. Dry the tofu as much as possible. The quickest way I’ve found to do this is to slice the block into three thin slabs, then grill or bake until most of the moisture is gone. Mince the tofu finely.

3. While the tofu is grilling/baking, prepare nam chim. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, a food processor will work. Grind the garlic and chilies together. In a small saucepan, add water, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic-chili mixture. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Over medium heat, sauté onions, tofu, and woodear mushrooms until onions are translucent. Add oyster sauce and mix well.

5. Add 3 cups of water to the bánh cuốn flour package and mix well.

6. Heat a nonstick pan on medium flame. Ladle one scoop of batter onto pan and quickly move around to coat surface of the pan. Cover with a lid.

7. After a minute, remove from heat and add filling. Fold over, like a crepe.

8. Sprinkle with nam chim, fried shallots, and steamed mung bean sprouts.

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22 thoughts on “Street Food Challenge #2: Bánh cuốn”

    1. Thanks, Patty! Maybe you need to eat some today. 🙂 The flour package actually tells you to make your own cloth steamer. It doesn’t sound too complicated…if it weren’t so late by the time I was able to get started, I would’ve tried it. Next time!

  1. damn . . . I do computer in the morning and when I see one of your recipes I always get hungry and have to break away for breakfast . . . I’m going to start saving you for last . . . 🙂

  2. Another success in your challenge…yippee! You may have to add a dish or two now, as you’ll be done in no time. This looks delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed your accompanying story!

    1. Thanks, Nancy! The next one on the list is a doozy, and I’ve got a couple busy weekends coming up…so the list may be on pause for a while haha.

  3. One of my all time favorite Vietnamese dishes, Noony. My mom always makes a vegetarian version when she makes the “regular” dish with minced beef and pork loaf. The veggie version she makes is essentially the same as yours. We serve it with shredded lettuce and sprouts, with the fish sauce mixture traditionally, but for vegetarians, just with fried shallots and extra sauteed mushrooms on top. Seeing this and remembering my mom’s cooking is making me really hungry! Fantastic job, Noony!

    1. I made them again for company on Sunday, and I have leftovers for lunch today. They were a mini version, which I thought would be better for the finger food atmosphere of the get-together.

  4. Well done for making the rice crepes!! I’ve looked at those batter mix packets in the Asian grocers but never bought it! It would be great to have a cloth steamer, but I’d be scared of doing everything wrong! 😛

  5. I have put a package of this flour mixture on my shopping list. The cloth steamer sounds intriguing – will check it out. Your recipe looks really tempting.

    1. Apparently there are instructions on how to make a steamer on the back of the package. I’m not sure what kind of cloth to use though. Also, if you are feeling extra brave, you can make the batter yourself. It is equal parts tapioca flour and rice flour.

  6. Noony, you’re becoming quite a pro in the kitchen! I’ve had this banh cuon a couple of times, and I can’t even imagine how anybody can make it at home. Looks so delicate. I was thinking there must be a special tool. I need to google cloth steamer. I have a bamboo steamer. I’m guessing it’s not the same.

    1. Mine tasted authentic but you definitely need that cloth steamer to make them as thin as possible. You can make one yourself but what type of cloth to use? Some kind of silk? Something pretty fine but with a tight weave, I would think.

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