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:
- Bánh cuốn
- Kao soi
- 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…
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
- 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.