Eat Drink Style 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.

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